Letters to the Editor May 10, 2017

Council merger

At the Extraordinary Meeting of Council held on Monday 1 May, the General Manager’s cogent recommendation ‘That Dungog Shire Council advise Port Stephens Council and the Minister for Local Government that Council is willing to voluntarily amalgamate with Port Stephens Council conditional upon the written commitment of the NSW Government to financially support the merged entity’ was narrowly defeated.

Interestingly, our Mayor, Cr Johnston was one of those voting in favour of that resolution stating that both he and the community were tired of the ongoing issue and that it needed to be resolved. It was pleasing to have the Mayor’s support and his reading of community views.

A subsequent motion was passed as follows:

‘1. That a Delegation of General Manager, Mayor and Deputy Mayor approach and enter into negotiations to achieve the best possible outcomes for the residents of Dungog Shire and Council staff in a potential merger with Port Stephens.

2. That a Delegation of General Manager, Mayor and Deputy Mayor approach and seek expressions of interest from Maitland Council as to their view on a merger, and negotiate to achieve the best possible outcomes for the residents of Dungog Shire and Council staff.

3. That a Delegation of General Manager, Mayor and Deputy Mayor approach the Boundaries Commission and enter into negotiations to achieve the best possible outcomes for the communities of Dungog Shire and Council staff in a potential splitting of the Shire between surrounding Shires.

4. That a Delegation of General Manager, Mayor and Deputy Mayor approach and enter into negotiation with officers of State Government to achieve the best possible outcomes for the residents of Dungog Shire for the Shire to retain its independence.

5. That a Councillors' workshop be held within 14 days from today to determine (a) discussion and negotiation points for 1 - 4, and (b) a reporting mechanism to Councillors regarding outcomes of the meetings; and that all information will be made public before the next Council elections.

6. That a Poll be conducted at the next Council elections with regard to each of the options mentioned in 1. to 4. above to democratically gauge the opinions of the residents of the Shire.’

After the meeting, the Deputy Mayor submitted his resignation from Council with immediate effect.

This resolution places Council and its community in an intolerable situation.

1.     The motion requires the General Manager, Mayor and the Deputy Mayor to do various things. The General Manager has written his recommendation and which the majority of Councillors rejected. The Mayor has said he is tired of the issue and wanted it resolved, and the Deputy Mayor has resigned.

2.     The options to merge with either Maitland or Port Stephens Councils have been researched, aired through public hearings and reported upon by experts in their field.

3.     While the concept of further researching the various options is admirable, what have our Councillors been doing for the past 3 years? Obtaining the facts and placing them before our community is years overdue. This further delay and procrastination is all so unnecessary.

4.     Our Councillors have not advised our community on the various options, their pros and cons or consulted to obtain community feedback.

5.     Our Councillors have said in the past (and are saying now) that they do not know what our community wants. Why not? And what have they previously done about it?

6.     When the community has responded (via surveys, petitions and requests for information), our Councillors have ignored such community feedback.

7.     Our Council’s past resolutions on the merger issue have consistently stated Council’s opposition to any merger and its desire to ‘stand alone’. Without even a firm resolution on Council’s books that it will now merge with someone, Items 1 and 2 in the resolution above have absolutely no effect and cannot form the basis of any discussions with adjoining Councils.

8.     The Boundaries Commission will not ‘negotiate’ with anyone over splitting Council areas, not even Dungog Council.

9.     Our Councillors have missed the point on the whole viability of a proposed merger with Port Stephens Council. It is the NSW Government that controls the purse strings not via any ‘negotiations’ with any adjoining Council or officers of Government.

10.  At the March meeting of Council, Lisa Connors asked if the Council delegation that was to meet with the Deputy Premier on 4 April could ‘negotiate’ the best possible outcomes for the residents of Dungog Shire in any potential merger with Port Stephens. From all accounts, that opportunity was wasted.

11.  At the Dungog Shire Residents Group meeting with the Deputy Premier on 1 March, advice was given that for a voluntary merger between the two Councils, the $15 million ‘encouragement money’ was still on the table for the merged Council, that a ‘rates freeze’ would not apply, and that arrangements might be made in respect of backlog maintenance issues.

12.  The NSW Government was not going to financially support Dungog Council as a ‘stand alone’ Council. Nor was it supporting the 108% rates increase proposed by Council as part of its improvement plan. [The General Manager’s last report to Council indicated in any case that that figure was now more likely to be a 128% rates increase.]

13.  Any poll at the next Council election is not binding on the subsequent Council. But even if it were binding, why are our current Councillors abrogating their responsibility to themselves act (as required by the Local Government Act) in the best interests of our community.

14.  Due to political circumstance, a decision on the possible Port Stephens merger must be made NOW. The current window of opportunity will shortly disappear.

I despair that our Councillors have not had and do not now have the ability to rationally and strategically move forward. I do not have confidence that the resolution passed on 1 May can be implemented at all. And even if the resolution passed on 1 May could be implemented, those charged with its implementation do not currently have the resolve to do so. And it is clear that Council itself does not have the resources to implement or support the resolution passed on 1 May.

The resolution passed on 1 May needs to be rescinded and the General Manager’s recommendation passed.

Brian Farmer, Clarence Town

Now hear this!

What can be said about Dungog Council and it's hopeless lack of ability to make a decision ?

As an example of sheer bloody-mindedness, the attitude of 'the five' would be impossible to beat. What they will achieve in their apparent determination to stand alone, will be the very opposite to what they seem to have in mind.

Rosemary Wall has nailed it. Dungog Shire will be split four ways, and any semblance of Community that exists, will be lost forever. And in the words of PJ Keating, each of them will be "at the a*** end of the world".

Nice one, folks. I hope you are all proud of yourselves.

Now, if we ever get through to normal Council business, in the distant future,---Why do we not have Angle Parking in Dowling Street?

It seems to work in Brown Street In front of the Council Chambers, where with parallel parking you could fit four cars, max. there is always six or seven vehicles.

It works perfectly well in the Supermarket car park. Seems to work almost everywhere. Except in Dungog. Since the invention of the motor car, parking has been a perennial problem, in Dungog. Angle parking would increase the available space by thirty percent.

The old nonsense about crunching your fenders on the curb can be easily overcome by the placement of low concrete barriers.

I know it has been discussed favourably at a Traffic and Safety Committee meeting.

And don't make the mistake of missing the Great Wallarobba Trivia Challenge.

It's on June 3rd. At 6.30 for a 7pm.start. The theme this year is "Around the World".  So start thinking about decorating your table of eight or ten and bone up on the World.

Yeah, it's got me beat too! As always, it will be a great night.

Tom Boorer, Dungog