Interview: Mayor of Broken Hill City Council

By GovInsider

This Mining City is looking into smart city tech.

Mayor Darriea Turley talks about how the council turned its budget deficit around in three years.

What is your vision for the city?

Our vision is for Broken Hill to be a vibrant, prosperous and culturally rich Heritage City shared with visitors from around the world. This vision is shared by our community and we are considered one of the friendliest cities in the world.

How will technology help? How will you develop your digital services?

I believe that digital technology will drive our future. Our Council believes that technology is really about people being enabled to work together more effectively.

It’s about companies bringing their products and services to the world. The digital economy and high speed broadband will provide the foundations for Broken Hill and far west to become a leading region in Australia and the world.

As cited in our ‘Digital Economy Strategy 2011’ opportunities include: ​exporting core mining skills and expertise across the globe, ​developing unique rural creative industry services, delivering remote education methodologies and processes, ​delivering remote health methodologies and processes, and ​offering unique and iconic tourism experiences.

Currently Broken Hill City Council is in the early stages of investing in ‘Smart City’ technology and addressing the broader digital strategy.

What has been the greatest innovation from the civil service?

Broken Hill is Australia’s first Heritage City and has a rich mining history. In fact, it is considered the birthplace of revolutionary mining innovation that became standard throughout the world.

Our history of innovations include Australia’s first large scale mining activity, the world’s first placement of tailings underground, and first Australian use of electric lighting and electric tramways underground, among many others.

What has been the biggest challenge that the council overcame in 2016?

Broken Hill City Council was assessed by the T Corp (NSW Treasury Corporation) in 2013 to be in a weak and unstable financial position and to be unsustainable; our performance indicators were generally below acceptable benchmarks.

With a commitment by staff and Councillors and a lot of tough decisions in three years this has been turned around. Broken Hill City Council reduced a $7 million operating deficit two years ago to a $3.07 million surplus for the 2016 financial year.

The improvements come from a range of sources within Council's business, including the sale of the aged care bed licences, the recovery of the majority of investments in the now defunct Lehman Brothers, and better management of investments.

Other factors include savings achieved by the extensive staffing restructure undertaken at Council over the last few years, and increased general efficiency in internal operations.

Council has made some difficult decisions in the past few years, and we are now seeing the financial results of these decisions.

How is the city using feedback from citizens?

Broken Hill City Council has a custodial role in developing and maintaining the Community Strategic Plan on behalf of our community.

This plan is the link to all our integrated plans for service delivery and asset management. Council has attempted to honestly record and translate community comments to reflect a balance of the issues raised.

A number of community engagement activities have contributed to the contents of this plan, through meetings, workshops and forums, surveys, and online comments.

These information is then used in the development of programs, and feedback from citizens is presented to the Council for consideration.

This year we also used an online program called Budget Estimator and we asked the community for their financial priorities. IPads were used and pop-up stands were held throughout the city.

Depending on the priority, the online budget would be amended automatically so that citizen could assess whether the financial changes were acceptable. This provided council with a range of information especially where council should be renewing assets.

What is your top priority for 2017?

Council adopted an extensive staffing restructure in 2014. As such, our priority for 2017 has to be assessing the impact of this restructure and our capacity to deliver services.

As Australia’s first Heritage City we are developing our conference and event programs that will boost tourism to our city.

What is the biggest area of spending for the council?

Employee costs represent the biggest single spend for Broken Hill City Council. However, the scope of council responsibility is significant and encompasses the needs of a transitioning community - from a mining town to a vibrant 21st century cosmopolitan city, dependant on the resurgence of mining, renewables and the tourism sector.

These make the council capable of capitalising on the opportunities of the future.

If I were to visit your city, what one place would you recommend?

There are so many iconic places to visit that it very hard to name just one, but if I have to, I would say the Broken Hill Sculptures and Living Desert Sanctuary.

With 2,400 hectares of natural arid landscape, you can take the Cultural Walking Trail to view Aboriginal heritage, local wildlife and native flowers like the Sturt Desert Pea.

There is also an old prospectors mine and scenic lookouts to view the incredible vista. Then walk to the Sculpture Park at the top of the hill. Just breathtaking!