High Achievers - Geoffrey Smith Director of Finance, Somerset Regional Council
At Queensland’s Somerset Regional Council, Director of Finance Geoffrey Smith is known for ‘going above and beyond.’
Somerset is located just out of Brisbane and is based around Brisbane’s water supply lakes of Somerset Dam and Wivenhoe Dam.
The council area has boundaries with Sunshine Coast and Toowoomba and has a population of 24,000 people, spread out over a dozen small towns and rural areas.
Mr Smith said he enjoys the local lifestyle: “Somerset has the advantages of rural living while being close to a capital city. I get to walk or cycle to work in Esk.”
Mr Smith started at Council in 2000, before mergers, when it was still known as Esk Shire.
Somerset Mayor Graeme Lehmann nominated Mr Smith as a LG Focus ‘High Achiever’, noting his success in gaining grant funding for the council.
“He goes above and beyond the call of duty, that’s for sure,” the Mayor said. “He’s on top of it all.”
Mr Smith came to local government after qualifying and working as an accountant.
“I was raised near Cairns and qualified as a chartered accountant while working for KPMG including doing insolvency and business services work. A lot of what I learned in that time has been surprisingly useful in local government.”
He also gained experience in local government audits in North Queensland.
Mr Smith said he enjoys the practical nature of local government work.
“Local governments are in a better position than anyone to help develop local communities at a practical level through infrastructure.”
As Director of Finance, he has helped the Council secure some key grants funding.
“We have done well in attracting funding from governments of all colours for a variety of infrastructure, cultural and recreation projects.
“We understand we are the most successful council in Australia under the federal government’s Bridges Renewal Program in terms of number of bridge replacement projects approved and that has been really gratifying.
“It’s also a necessity for our farmers to not have to deal with long detours and restrictive load limits when they are trying to earn a living.”
Another recent successful grant application was for federal Building Better Regions funding to complete Australia’s longest recreational rail trail, the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail, which will run 160 kms from Ipswich to Yarraman. It’s due to be completed by 30 June 2018.
Mr Smith said good communication and understanding between council staff and members is key.
“It’s important for a local government Chief Financial Officer to understand the roles of elected members and council engineers and for them to understand your role.
“You have to work at those relationships and effectively communicate why financial strength matters to a council – the alternative is not where most communities would want their council to be.”
He said a memorable career moment was spending six months as acting CEO of the former Esk Shire in 2008, preparing for a council amalgamation, ‘which was interesting.’
Into the future, Mr Smith hopes to help increase the area’s connectivity.
“My dream is to build a road from our growth town of Fernvale directly into the Brisbane City Council area.”
But his immediate plans are more leisurely: “I’m off to visit my son in Madrid and am looking forward to a well-earned break before getting into 2018.”