Interview: Mayor of City of Palmerston

Contracting to private firms is this council’s edge.

Mayor Ian Abbott shares how the city is supporting local businesses and his plans for a city-wide sensor network. What is your vision for the city? Our vision is for a safe, inclusive, progressive and vibrant community – “a place for people.” Amongst a whole host of other initiatives and tools, technology can be an important enabler in reaching this goal. How will technology help? In a wide variety of ways. Internally, technology is an important tool for us to manage the assets of Council in the most effective and efficient manner. We are using software and hardware related to electricity metering, mesh connectivity, asset management, irrigation, car parking management, and traffic studies. Mayor Ian Abbott In a more outward facing service to the community, our infrastructure can provide a vast improvement to safety through the broad provision of CCTV for use by the Northern Territory Police and emergency services. A city-wide mesh also means the potential of city wide wireless internet as well as location based information on Council and services in the community. In our climate, letting a young mum know there is a water fountain and shade just around the corner can help promote active lifestyles. At a deeper level, the delivery of Council data in an open data platform can also spur innovation and community driven services such as parking and transport apps. In addition local innovation can leverage Council’s future city wide mesh in ways we today can’t even comprehend, and we are keen for this type of local economic development to occur. How will you develop your digital services? It starts with a city wide mesh – we are investigating turning all our existing street lights and park lights into smart street lights (with LED of course), providing a backbone of coverage across all 56 square kilometre of the city. With this in place, adding components such as irrigation management or car parking management becomes a much simpler project. Wherever it makes sense – intersections, school crossings and community shops – we would be looking at CCTV coverage to increase safety and security. What has been the greatest innovation from your civil service? Where do I start! Perhaps the most innovative is from the structure we have had in place for quite some time now. Rather than employ our own staff to carry out roadworks, maintenance, construction, landscaping etc, our first response is always to contract out to a local business. This has had an incredible effect on our local economy, and has kept our staffing numbers and costs way down, making us the most efficient local government in the Northern Territory. This method has also given us a greater agility to tackle difficult projects for which we do not have the requisite staff or skills – we just contract out. How is the city using feedback from citizens? Council carries out annual community satisfaction surveys, and relies on these responses to determine our overall performance. Regardless of whether we think we are doing well, the most important performance measure is whether the community think we are doing well. What has been the biggest challenge that the city overcame in 2016? We changed the method of taxation – called “rates” in Australia – bringing it in line with the common method of basing taxes on the valuation of property. Previously a flat rate had meant that everyone – regardless of the size or value of the property – paid the same tax. Council saw this as not reflective of some core principles of taxation in Australia, particularly that those who are most able to pay ought to be paying a greater amount than those who are struggling. Changing the taxation structure meant there were some unhappy residents, but we believe that the community is adjusting, and that in the long run this was the change that needed to occur. What is your top priority for 2017? Preparing for and funding the roll out of smart technology via a city wide mesh will definitely be the major project, and is intertwined with a large number of other incremental and major changes. Getting this right will have a fundamental effect on service delivery by Council far into the future, as you can imagine, and cannot be underestimated – or under planned! What is the biggest area of spending for the city? We will spend a considerable amount in rehabilitating our old landfill, but will also I expect be funding the construction of a major parking structure within our CBD. Both are significant capital infrastructure spends for a community our size. If I were to visit your city, what one place would you recommend? Marlow Lagoon, our recreation area on the western side of the city. Beautiful gardens, where we host community events – and periodically pull a freshwater crocodile or two out of the lagoon! Also, in the CBD our Goyder Square on a Friday night during the dry season hosts a spectacular evening market. We would love to have you come and visit!