Dungog Shire Councillors have narrowly voted against a motion to merge with Port Stephens Council.
Instead, a council delegation of the General Manager, Mayor and Deputy Mayor will seek more information on the proposed Port Stephens merger, investigate Maitland Council’s views on a potential merger, approach the Boundaries Commission about potentially splitting the shire and negotiate with the State Government on Dungog retaining its independence.
The council also voted to conduct a poll at the next council election to gauge the opinion of residents on the issues.
There was standing room only in the Doug Walters Pavillion last night as the council considered its future during a two hour Extraordinary Meeting.
Close to 200 people attended with 160 people inside the room and many more spilling onto the verandah of the hall.
Before the councillors debated the issue, community members addressed the meeting for five minutes each raising points for and against the merger.
The lack of a PA system to hear the speakers and cramped conditions created tension among some audience members.
Nigel Waters from the Tomaree Ratepayers and Residents Association and Ryan Palmer, President of the Port Stephens Business Chamber, both spoke against the merger proposal with Port Stephens.
Mr Waters said he believed the issue should go to a plebiscite.
“Let the people speak on it,” he said.
“I wouldn’t wish our council on our worst enemies let alone our friends in Dungog.
Dungog resident Sally Corbett spoke on rates, infrastructure and solutions and said there had been a “constant barrage of misinformation” on the issue.
Janet Hayes from Dungog Clarence Town branch of the Country Women’s Association said her branch had voted to support the merger.
She acknowledged the “tough position” of the councillors but asked them to “step up and be a little bit brave” and support the merger.
Cr Glenn Wall moved the recommendation from the Council’s General Manager, Craig Deasey, that the council agree to the voluntary merger proposed by Port Stephens Council in March –subject to government financial support for the new entity.
The audience erupted into applause when he told the meeting “if we don’t do it tonight, it will never happen”.
But his motion, seconded by Cr Stephen Farrow, was defeated 4-5.
This sparked a walk out by a large number of the audience, clearly disgruntled by the decision.
Mayor Harold Johnston, Cr Stephen Farrow and Cr Tracy Norman supported the motion.
Cr Nancy Knudsen who had earlier foreshadowed an amendment then moved a six point motion which was passed 6-3.
Voting in favour of the motion were Cr Knudsen, Cr Linda Bowden, Cr Tony McKenzie, Cr Robert Booth, Cr Tracy Norman and Cr Neville Bale.