Dungog Shire Council's GM recommends merging with Port Stephens

Council boss says merge

Dungog Shire Council’s General Manager has recommended a merger with Port Stephens – conditional upon the State Government financially supporting the new council.

In a report ahead of the council’s Extraordinary Meeting on Monday, May 1, Craig Deasey has recommended the council agree to the voluntary merger proposed by Port Stephens Council in March.

A large public gallery is expected at the 6 pm meeting at the Doug Walters Pavillion in Mackay Street.

Mr Deasey’s six-page report referenced the council’s meeting with Deputy Premier John Barilao on April 5 during which the council posed a series of questions about its future.

At the time of writing the report, Mr Deasey said the responses the Deputy Premier committed to providing in writing had not been received.

“Whilst I envisage that the response by the Deputy Premier will be received prior to the meeting and will be circulated to all Councillors upon receipt, in the interest of transparency to the community this report has been prepared on the basis of consideration of the Port Stephens voluntary amalgamation proposal,” he wrote.

Mr Deasey advised councillors to “look at this proposal objectively and not be influenced by the politics or the lobbying processes that have been underway and determine what is the right decision in terms of the future of our communities and the generations that are to come.”

He said he had previously reported on the council’s staffing situation and had reported over many years that “the long term financial position of the council is at risk.”

“The Shire’s population is growing but also ageing and we are not undertaking any assessment as regards these impacts into the future as we have no strategic planners or staff within areas to look at these emerging issues.”

He said Dungog Shire Council had been left stranded on one hand but on the other it now has an opportunity to self determine its future.

He said the loss of democracy issue had been raised but he questioned how often the majority of the population have an interest in what the council is doing.

“It is quite evident that the majority of services which the council undertakes or provides are not known by the broader community, if the community is receiving the services which they expect from the rates they pay do they care whether the administration base is local or city based?”

Mr Deasey said his view of a poll on the matter of the mergers would be a “fruitless exercise”.

“Community leadership needs to be displayed and this council has had carriage of this process since September 2012,” he wrote.

“A poll provides no enforceable outcome and this Council would effectively be deferring this matter to the next council.”

He said to defer or delay determining a position would not be in the best interests of the community or the staff.

He said the staff amenities were “a bl**dy disgrace” and it was a credit to his staff that they continued to endure the “archaic facilities”.

Mr Deasey said in the report that should council determine to stand alone, the community can expect annual rate increases of 13 per cent for six years for council to maintain infrastructure.

He said a replacement of the current administration building would be between $3 - $4 million.

“The council will also have to increase general rates by at least an additional 20% to ensure that the staffing levels within the critical areas of council can meet community expectations and provide strategic capacity to the organisation.”

He said if the $15 million previously offered to councils who voluntarily agreed to merge was still available from the government, this could be invested into vital infrastructure upgrades and community infrastructure.

The full report from Mr Deasey can be found here.