How City Of Coffs Harbour Became Shiny

Coffs Harbour City

Social media myths were busted as the City of Coffs Harbour confirmed its “spectacular” financial transformation at a special event for the area’s leading business lights.

Speaking to a packed function room at Opal Cove Resort on 22 February, City General Manager Natalia Cowley gave insight into the Council’s turnaround at a breakfast presentation hosted by Coffs Harbour Chamber of Commerce.

Ms Cowley said the General Fund at the end of the 2021-22 financial year stood at $9.5 million in the red.

Roll forward and it was $15.7m in the black at 30 June last year.

“This is spectacular”, she said, noting the City’s books had been lifted by “stellar” performances from the City-owned holiday parks and Coastal Works.

“A genius business”, Ms Cowley said Coastal Works builds and bills other councils for public infrastructure such as bridges.

She said the financial situation when she joined the City some 18 months back was challenging, with numerous loss-making years forecast.

“When you have a bleeding baby you’ve got to stop the bleed,” Ms Cowley said.

Actions were put in place, including a City restructure, where the GM noted outdoor staff numbers were protected.

Council was already committed to its world class yet expensive community building projects in Yarrila Place and the multipurpose centre Wiigulga.

Ms Cowley said some capital works projects were reluctantly deferred, including the pools at Sawtell and Woolgoolga after the grant monies for these were dwarfed by soaring building costs.

“It’s about being realistic on what we can deliver,” she said of a City operation with an annual capital expenditure of some $60m per year.

Ms Cowley also noted the City had not had a special rate variation since 2016/17 – unlike many of its neighbouring local governments.

“We are completely reset,” she said.

A number of furphies in the social media rabbit holes were also exposed.

The 140-odd sold-out chamber gathering was shown slides which showed the average time to resolve development applications in City of Coffs Harbour was 68 days – far quicker than the bulk of NSW regional councils.

The City is also a leader when it comes to rates – charging far less than neighbour councils like Clarence, Nambucca and Kempsey (in an example cited for a block of land valued at $430,000).

“Now that’s what I call value for money,” Ms Cowley said.

But she noted it is not sustainable for a City facing growing challenges, with the population due to increase by some 30 per cent from its current 82,500 residents to 106,575 in 2041.

Tourism remains a key economic driver for the City, Ms Cowley said, with Coffs Harbour’s beaches and events proving irresistible magnets.

“We are starting to be known as a place to come,” she said, noting the success of a dispersed physical visitor centre network across Coffs and soon to be released Coffs Coast Visitor Experience App.

“Frankly, we live in paradise,” she said.

Dressed in her trademark black (numbers’ whizzes love black), Ms Cowley said the City must continue to pivot and innovate.

“Right now we are living within our means … we are becoming shiny,” she said.

Ms Cowley’s chamber of commerce presentation was followed by an open floor Q&A, where a local school principal praised the delivery of Yarrila Place as a space where young people could study and create outside of school library hours.

Chamber’s public officer Jay Clowes said the meeting was a rare opportunity to “look under the hood” of an organisation as large as City of Coffs Harbour.

“It’s good to see a room so full and a reflection of the star power of our guest speaker,” Mr Clowes said.


City of Coffs Harbour General Manager Natalia Cowley speaking at the Coffs Harbour Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting on 22 February.

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