Despite the public enquiry held in Dungog on Wednesday afternoon focussing on the Dungog-Maitland merger, the vast majority of speakers were in favour of a Dungog and Port Stephens union.
There are two proposals on the table for Dungog – a merger with Maitland and the initial consolidation with Gloucester proposed by the government late last year.
Port Stephens threw their hat into the ring in March saying they would like to merge with Dungog. That proposal is currently with the CEO of the office of local government.
This was the second meeting presided over by Dr Ian Tiley, the government appointed delegate. The first was in mid-February where Dungog ratepayers voiced their opposition to a proposed merger with Gloucester Council.
Dungog Council’s general manager Craig Deasey said whatever the outcome of any merger proposals, residents of Dungog Shire will, in the future, have to pay more.
“It is evident at this stage that Maitland has a degree of differential rating however Port Stephens Council does not operate differential rate bases,” he said.
“What underpins the impact upon Dungog Shire ratepayers will be based upon how the land value of their property compares to others within the different rate categories.
“If there is to be any merger there will need to be a differential rating structure in place within the new entity.
“Aspects including service levels, asset maintenance and renewal strategies should then determine the future rates pricing for the former Dungog local government area.”
Mr Deasey said for many years council has been arguing with the NSW Government for a percentage of the dividend that Hunter Water contributes to the state’s coffers.
“The value of water which is exported from the shire every day, supplying drinking water to the lower Hunter is not part of the economic assessment of the shire,” he said.
“Virtually the entire shire is now classified as part of the drinking water catchment and can be an impediment to economic development in the shire.”
Dungog councillor Linda Bowden, who was speaking as a resident always believed it was in the best interests of this rural council to be able to ‘stand alone’ with appropriate government support.
“This should be a given,” she said.
“Dungog Shire Council has a long established local identity and there are concerns amongst our residents that amalgamating with a larger neighbour will lead to a situation where locals will not get the attention that they deserve.
“We know from academic literature that amalgamations, generally, don’t meet expectations.
“Research also shows that there can be significant loss of local identity.
“Amalgamations took place in Queensland in 2008 and, while there were successes, in 2013 several amalgamations were reversed after relentless local campaigns.
“Reversal of amalgamations was mainly led by small communities who grew more passionate about getting their shires back, claiming a loss of service delivery and local identity.
“Our dealings with Maitland City Council over an extended period of time demonstrate, that if a forced amalgamation was to take place, they have a commitment to working with Dungog Council as a partner, in order to preserve the aspects that we, as residents, value.
“They chose us as a merger partner if need be and have this as a standing motion.
“I therefore would also support working with Maitland City Council as a merger partner if a forced amalgamation were to take place.”
Kate Murphy said she and her husband moved to Dungog in 1995 and set up a business.
“We were welcomed with open arms,” she said.
“Now in 2016 service delivery has dropped but I realise it’s more to do with red tape than anything else.
“I am against a Maitland merger. Maitland is a city and we are a rural country town.
“There is nothing wrong with Maitland being a city, but it has a different view.
“There is a lot of hostility and opposition in Maitland . . . They think of Dungog as a burden that will drag Maitland down.
“I would like to have time to investigate the Port Stephens proposal. They don’t see us as a burden but an asset.
“There is good will from the Port Stephens people to merge with us.
“It’s about listening to the community.”
Upper Allyn resident Noel Brown said he has looked at the level of interest from Maitland and says there is none.
“One of my biggest concerns is the representation we won’t have,” he said.
“We will virtually be living in the back blocks and no-one to voice our concerns.
“Dungog, as our major centre, will not be as big as some of their suburbs.
“If we go with them we will be living in a city . . . just like a suburb.
“We have to look at the alternative which is Port Stephens. They have small towns like us and are financially astute.
“The only thing coming out of Maitland is Gresford Road and that’s not very pretty.”