Dungog voters face a poll and a referendum as well as council elections on September 9

Big decisions for Dungog ratepayers at polls

When Dungog residents go to the polls on September 9  they will be faced with three decisions – what councillor to vote for along with their views on both a poll and a referendum.

The council is facing a bill in excess of $87,000 for the Electoral Commission to run the local government election.

The regular poll to elect the nine councillors is estimated to cost around $72,000 and the added cost of running a referendum (with three questions) and a poll (with four questions)  will add at least 20 per cent – or $14,400 – to that cost.

The council’s Acting General Manager, Shaun Chandler, said the council determined in February this year to hold a referendum about the future makeup of the council numbers.

While the exact wording of the questions is still being determined by the Electoral Commission they include whether the Mayor should be popularly elected; if the council numbers in each ward should drop from three to two and if the ward system should be abolished.

“The referendum is compulsory for people to vote on and its result, providing it gets a certain percentage of votes, is binding although it will not come into effect until the next election scheduled for 2020,” said Mr Chandler.

The poll on the future of the council has had a controversial  history since first being mooted by Cr Nancy Knusden, now the Mayor, during debate on whether the council should merge with Port Stephens Council.

The council voted that rather than accept Port Stephens Council’s offer to merge it would research and publicise various options for the council’s future for the  community to decide in a poll at the local government elections on what course to take.

Shortly after this decision the former Mayor Harold Johnston and four other councillors resigned from council, along with the council’s general manager, Craig Deasey, leaving only Cr Knudsen, Cr Robert Booth, Cr Linda Bowden and Cr Tracy Norman.

While there were calls from State MP Michael Johnsen for an administrator to be called in, advice from Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton reveals “there is no statutory barrier that precludes the council being able to continue to function with four councillors”.

The remaining councillors recently decided on the questions which require a yes or no answer – Do you want Dungog Shire Council to remain a stand alone council?; Do you want Dungog Shire Council to engage in merger discussions with Maitland City Council?; Do you want Dungog Shire Council  to begin merger discussions with Port Stephens Council?; Do you want Dungog Shire Council to apply to the Boundary Commission to split the shire.

The results of the poll will not be binding for the new council.

Mr Chandler said the existing council had to make a resolution before the election on what would happen in the scenario that the election was uncontested in one ward or across the shire.

A report on the issue is to go before the next council meeting later this month.