Azoora Ali is Chief Financial Officer at Timaru District Council. Azoora and her family recently made a big move, relocating from Auckland to the South Canterbury town of Timaru, home to 48,000 people. In this profile she describes the way her team's work underpins day-to-day Council decision-making and provides the operational support that allows it to ensure positive outcomes for the community, including the development of a number of projects. She also mentions the penguins, farmers' market, walks and snow that she likes to take her young family to visit as well as her delight in her new 10-minute commute.

Tell us about your role at Timaru District Council

I am the Chief Financial Officer at Timaru District Council. My team and I are responsible for holding the financial reins of the organisation. This includes being actively involved in, and influencing, all material business decisions to ensure immediate and longer term implications are fully considered with the financial strategies of Timaru District Council.

My team ensures that public money is safeguarded at all times, some of which are through the collection of rates, payments to suppliers, investments in critical assets and securing loans to mitigate risks of market volatility. My role is to work across the organisation to ensure that appropriate financial support is available from a strategic perspective, as well as to ensure the team is providing sufficient operational support in relation to financial matters for day-to-day decision-making.

Can you tell us about some of your current projects which you are particularly excited about?

The finance team at Timaru is in a growth phase. We are very excited about this as we’re looking at how we set ourselves up strategically for success for the community and internally. We are introducing artificial intelligence to minimise the manual handling of payment processes and streamlining our across-Council financial planning and analysis work. Some key projects within Council include the redevelopment of our Art Gallery, creating a more vibrant Timaru City Hub, and Theatre Royal & Heritage Hub facility developments, to name a few, There are many others!

What is the most challenging part of your role?

Strategically, we want to become more agile and improve the way we do things at a rapid pace in order to get where we aim to be. However, there’s always the balancing act of delivering the core operational functions against project work which can compete with our resourcing capacity.

The challenge is to prioritise at the right levels across both operational and strategic elements. Priorities can constantly shift, and this fast-paced journey makes it really exciting to juggle on all fronts and ensure that our people are looked after in the process.

Why did you decide to work in local government?

I’ve always been driven towards serving communities and people. In my spare time, I try to dedicate as much time as I can to volunteer for community-related causes. As a youth I was also part of the Auckland City Youth Council and saw the impact that local government can make to communities. Knowing that what my team and I do has a direct positive impact on the community is a rewarding experience. The timing of this opportunity for a move to work at Timaru District Council was just right for my family too.

In what ways have you been involved with Taituarā so far?

I’ve really benefited from Taituarā resources and toolkits. These resources have been invaluable. I came to Timaru during our Long-term Planning phase and I had very little time to get up to speed with the sector best practices (having come from the commercial sector previously). Supported by my colleagues, I was able to access the extensive resources and guides available on the Taituarā website. This really helped bridge the gap and increase my understanding of the sector. Since then, I’ve also attended courses both in person and online. These have been invaluable and a great way to network as well. I hope to continue to use these resources and forums to learn from the vast sector expertise that is available to us.

When you are not working, what do you enjoy about living in Timaru?

Having moved from Auckland in January this year, living in Timaru has meant that there’s more time to spend on other things due to the short commutes. Traveling to work takes just 10 minutes as there's hardly any traffic.

Timaru has a geography of mountains and sandy beach coastlines. During sunny days we spend a lot of our time at Caroline Bay. A highlight has been watching penguins returning to their homes from the sea. Being able to see them in their natural habitat is something that is unique to Timaru.

There is no shortage of walks and parks close to home. Everything is very accessible as it's less than 10 minutes between the forest and the beach. It's also only an hour’s drive to the snow. We love taking our toddler and baby on the many local walks. A few of our favourite places to visit are Centennial Park walks and playground, Otipua Creek, and Peel Forest walks.

When we’re in town we love to visit the farmers' market. There’s never a shortage of fresh organic eggs, bread and honey which we look forward to stocking up on during weekends. All for a very good price and at a high quality.

To top it all off, we love the fact that Timaru is in the centre of the South Island and have made the most of trips out of Timaru too which doesn’t take a lot of planning to visit our neighbouring cities!