Tom O’Connor has been the General Manager of Uralla Shire Council for four and a half years, following a four year period as Council’s Director Corporate and Community Services.
How long have you been the General Manager of Uralla Shire Council?
The position of General Manager for the Uralla Shire Council came up in July 2007, when the long term General Manager, Bob Fulcher, decided to transition to retirement. The first term was for one year, at the end of which I had planned to retire. However, I decided to apply again and was successful in obtaining a further four year term to 10 July 2012.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Being the General Manager of the Uralla Shire Council is a privilege. We serve a great community, and Councillors and staff work well together. I have very professional and hardworking teams, outdoor, indoor and community services. Besides providing normal local government services to the Uralla Shire area, Uralla provides community services over a large portion of New England North West, from Walhallow in the south to Boggabilla in the north. Local government has been my passion since I commenced working for the Carnarvon Shire Council in Western Australia in January 1979. I also had the honour of being Town Clerk of my home town, Kalgoorlie, for four years from 1984 to 1988.
Council highlights throughout 2011?
The fact that Uralla Shire retained its autonomy and operated for the financial year to 30 June 2011 with a surplus of $1,266,072.68 was the highlight. The surplus, together with depreciation of $3,211,259.46, funded the year’s capital expenditure of $3,551,065.22 – to enable Council to remain financially and fiscally viable with good infrastructure. Another highlight was the community engagement through April and May, which resulted in the Uralla Shire Council Community Strategic Plan for the ten years to 2021 being endorsed by Council at the June meeting. This is the blueprint for Council into the near future. The introduction of the 140 litre general garbage bin and the conversion of the 240 litre general garbage bins to use as co-mingled recycling bins has seen a dramatic increase in the volumes of recycling products being processed by the new mechanical recovery facility at the Uralla landfill.
Council’s environmental credentials continue to grow, with work on the creeks and the installation of 38 kwh of solar panels on Council buildings. Council was awarded the Local Government Landscape Partnership Award in the Border Rivers-Gwydir Regional Landcare and Catchment Management Awards 2011.
How is the economy of Uralla going, and are new residents moving into town?
The return to good seasonal rains during the past two years has brightened the prospects generally of the grazing and agricultural industry, which is reflected in the towns and villages of the Shire. The two foundries in Uralla provide a diversity that continues to grow and add to economic health. Nonetheless, small businesses, in line with all businesses in Australia’s second speed economy away from the mining provinces, still find the going tough. The new wine growing area of New England, with vineyards near Kentucky, Kingstown and Uralla is gaining in reputation, and visitors are discovering our regional cuisine. Uralla’s main street, which is part of the New England Highway, has no empty shops and has a growing reputation for fine café foods. The Uralla Shire continues to grow at the five year average annual increase of just over 1%, with approximately 150 new residents making the Uralla Shire their home over the past year.
Have there been any low times?
I guess there has not been much time for low points, with so much to do and so little time to do everything. Of course, there have been low points; however, they make the highlights so much more enjoyable.
How many staff work for Council?
The Uralla Shire Council has 152 individual employees for 105.48 full-time equivalents. Council employs many part time and casual employees in the community services area, particularly at McMaugh Gardens Aged Care Centre, giving an opportunity for people who do not wish to work full-time. Our employees live principally in the Uralla Shire; however, we have employees in Tamworth, Narrabri, Boggabilla and Inverell providing community services throughout the region. One area of particular pride is the gender balance of employees of the Shire, particularly at management levels. Females make up 54.6% of all Council employees, with females making up 50% of Directors, 80% of Managers and 50% of other Supervisors. Council employees of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders descent are 24.5% of all employees and 40% of other Supervisors.
Do you have big plans for 2012?
The Community Strategic Plan and Council’s Delivery Program 2011/2016 have set high expectations from Council to continue to seal unsealed roads and rehabilitate sealed roads, so that more than 47% of our road network will be sealed by 2016 and 52.5% by 2021. Next calendar year will see the replacement of two timber bridges on local roads, Salisbury Waters and Purlieu, the completion of a Cultural Plan and Public Art Policy and more environmental initiatives to reduce the effect of the carbon tax on Council projects. The principal challenge remains the development of industrial land in Uralla – one which I hope will be resolved before the end of 2012.
The emphasis of this interview has been on my work and the Uralla Shire Council. While I enjoy my work and some would say that I am a workaholic, I do have a life other than Council. My wife, Marcella, and I have a heritage house in the main street of Uralla, and its renovation and the development of our garden, along with the enjoyment of the company of friends makes life complete.