Just in case you thought they weren’t listening….

Two years after heralding a new era in community engagement and local planning Council’s Director of Liveable Communities, Paul De Szell, has run up the white flag and authorised a Report to Council recommending that Council no longer engages with communities directly to develop community plans. 

Part 1 of  the Recommendation says –

“Council formally rescinds the Local Community Planning Framework, adopted at its Ordinary Meeting of 8 May 2019, and acknowledges and thanks the various communities for their various contributions to date.”

The Recommendation was adopted by a majority of Councillors with only Crs Kathryn Bell and Katheryn Smith opposing. Cr Peter Epov was absent due to family commitments in Sydney.

This is a significant backflip given in 2019 the Council Report asserted:

“In developing our Community Strategic Plan, MidCoast 2030: Shared Vision, Shared Responsibility, we had a number of conversations with community members about their hopes, dreams and desires for the future of the MidCoast.

While the responses were as diverse as the communities, the common thread was the desire to retain the unique identities and qualities of our towns and villages and for communities to be active participants in making this happen.

Community planning provides local communities with the opportunity to come together and collectively plan for their future, developing a plan that can then guide the delivery of Council services, activities and projects within individual communities.”

Sounds good to us. However it went on –

“Local community plans also set in place the foundation for creating long lasting change in communities by mobilising community champions to lead community projects.”

Surprise Surprise

Only now council has discovered the actual amount of work and cost involved with “195 localities across the MidCoast, consisting of 58 regional centres, towns and villages.” This was not anticipated in 2018/19?

When the “Local Community Planning Framework” was conceived significant resources were committed to its development and the implementation of the program.

The Report also contains a rather staggering admission: 

“Since the establishment of the framework three local community plans have been started, with only one completed. 

So what was being done by the Council Administration during two years of Covid lockdown?

Several insiders have suggested that the real problem was Council’s inability and opposition to making meaningful commitments that would deliver tangible outcomes for Community Plans. Such as –

“The challenges include the ability for the plan to achieve broad representation and to establish strategic aims and objectives, rather than develop a wish list for Council delivery.”

This failure will be viewed as the Council is in trouble and unable to make commitments and to deliver on promises. It also will be seen as a failure in public  and planning policy.

The most fundamental requirement of any government has to be their capacity to plan on behalf of the people. We have Council Plans which feed into Regional Plans then feed into State Plans and eventually to National Plans. But our Council has now eliminated the first and perhaps most crucial step of the process.

In an area as large and diverse as MidCoast Council covering over 10,000 square kilometres, communities need local plans to document local issues, which should be acknowledged and documented by the Council so people can at least have some hope that maybe, someday, something might just get done.

Council is required by law to have a Community Strategic Plan (a CSP spanning 10 years ) and a four year Delivery Program as well as an annual Operational Plan. Local Community Plans should be a key tool into feeding into all those plans.

Back Flip

And whilst this Council report speaks to public trust, this backflip will not do anything in strengthening public trust. Rather it may lead to more disillusionment and dissatisfaction.

Council’s new strategy appears is to have large numbers of localised public meetings as evidenced by the number of recently announced ‘community consultations’. Whilst it is constructive to have regular and frequent community engagement the reality is that  public expectation will not change – ratepayers will still demand better and more reliable services. 

Councillors need to be reminded that they are the people’s representatives and they need to direct the Administration to ensure that ‘our Council’ is a body that is principally established to be community focused and to deliver quality services to the community. (The council works for the people. Not the other way around.)

Council’s Quarterly Budget Review Statement (QBRS) 

MidCoast Council’s next Quarterly Budget Review Statement will be a key financial indicator as to how well our Council has been performing and whether Council will complete the promised Operational Plan Agenda by 30 June 2022.

The tabling of Council’s QBRS Report is a statutory requirement mandated as a transparency and accountability measure. The QBRS is to be made publicly available to so as to inform the community on Council’s progress and to assist Councillors to have a clearer picture of Council’s finances before they complete the ‘Draft’ Budget and present it for public exhibition.

Council’s next meeting has now been scheduled for May 11, let’s hope the Agenda for that meeting includes a QBRS! 

And, where is Council’s 2022/23 ‘Draft’ Budget?

Originally slated to be released in April, Council is yet to place the 2022/23 ‘Draft’ Budget on public exhibition. The ‘Draft’ Budget is also usually accompanied by a string of other mandated documents such as the Four Year Delivery Program, the Annual Operational Plan, and an updated and accurate Long Term Financial Plan, none of which have seen the light of day as yet. Nor has Council published the Community Strategic Plan which is a ten year plan that should inform the Delivery Program and the Operational Plans.

The Council’s next Budget needs to reflect and act on community concerns and fund issues that are relevant and meaningful to the public, ahead of expanding the administration any further.

We can no doubt expect that this next Budget will be another one of those ‘business as usual’ Budgets which we have experienced over the past 4 years of our amalgamated Council.

‘Business as usual’ is code for more of the same, and it’s pretty clear that the community is fed up and has had more than enough of the same.

Council’s infrastructure is failing and there appear to be no worthwhile solutions resolving the problem. The recent rain events have exposed and reinforced the state of our fragile infrastructure as well as our exposure to natural disasters and climatic events which no amount of cosmetic solutions will ameliorate.

Last year’s floods as well as the recent floods in Lismore and up the North Coast are a very clear warning that we need to be better prepared and Council has to be the catalyst.

Cr. Peter EPov leapt back into the fray saying “‘Our’ Council’s Budget needs to reflect and act on community concerns and fund matters that are relevant and meaningful.

This requires Council focusing spending funds raised from the ratepayers on projects and activities that are of real benefit to our community and not on administration. 

Council needs to significantly  increase expenditure on roads as well as on Climate Change Initiatives such as Adaptation and Mitigation. We also need to spend money on real economic development. The community expects this.”

When MidCoast Council was formed and the great argument was that now we would have scale and capacity to deliver outcomes for the community and be financially viable – ‘Fit for the Future’!

That assertion now seems to have gone down the gurgler. The Administration continues to grow fatter with expenditure on expanding staff numbers, administration costs and consultants’ costs spiralling.  The service delivery is no better (many would say much worse) and the community is drowning in potholes.

Many locals report that when speaking with Council Officers, they are consistently told there is no money for activities and projects, yet Council will raise over $300 Million in revenue in 2022/23.

Four years ago the common statement to the State Government was “set us up for success and we won’t need the begging bowl.” Now it seems Council will still be begging bowl dependent with its survivial at the mercy of State and Federal Grants.

So this next Budget will be a real test for our Councillors. They either work as a caucus, behind closed doors or they come out into the light and let their voices be heard.

Hallelujah! Fingers crossed. Don’t hold your breath.

Additional Special Rate Variation for 2022-2023

At the 27 April MidCoast Council Meeting a motion was moved by Cr David West and Seconded by Deputy Mayor Alan Tickle, and supported by a majority of Councillors, to approve the Administration to apply for an increase on top of the previously determined Rate Peg increase of 0.9% made in 2021 by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART).

Council will now apply for a 2.25% increase to commence from the 1st July 2022, which would if approved, be permanently imbedded into the rates structure.

The opportunity for greedy Councils to increase rates comes after a significant protest by many Councils at the recent local government Conference after which the NSW Government caved in and allowed applications for increases.

Rates Slug

So get ready to get slugged after July 1 and with the current economic situation there may be a further significant increase later in the year when IPART determines the Rate Peg for the 23/24 year.

Some of our Councillors should consider is Council  providing value for the rate money we current pay and the significant economic circumstances facing our residents and businesses in this low socio economic region.

At a time of spiralling costs, inflation and rising interest rates Council could have done the decent thing and stuck to the original 0.9% increase as previously determined.

Perhaps what will frustrate people the most will be that when this increase is approved, as it most likely will be, we won’t know where that additional money will be spent. If Council promised to spend this money on fixing potholes or other tangible initiatives this would have been far more palatable.

Council’s Mayor Pontin, blamed the situation on IPART and the system to determine the rate peg increases.

Perhaps the blame sits with the Councillors who approved the increase, and the community may have a different view?

Lease of Taree Council Chambers to Taree Universities Campus Ltd

Incredible as it may be, the elected Council of MidCoast Council (with the exception of Crs Bell and Epov) voted to lease the Taree Council Chambers to Taree Universities Campus Ltd for a period of 25 years for the princely sum of $5 Million dollars. 

It might sound okay and we don’t begrudge the Universities Campus for the deal they managed to extract, but for the community this will be a significant net loss over the period.

The lease figure of $5Million equates to $200,000 per year. The building is situated in the most prominent position in Taree and is 3,190 sqm with 37 secure car parks. It is now leased at $62.70 per square metre fixed for 25 years. 

After 25 years this asset which now is a building that is at least 37 years old, with the earlier section over 50 years old. So it has a value which equates to the building plus the land. After 25 years, it is likely that the asset could deteriorate down to land value.

Great move MidCoast Council.  (Unless a developer with very deep pockets starts from scratch and turns it into Barangaroo on the Manning.)

Community Consultations

MidCoast Council has recently announced a series of Community Consultations, so if you have an interest please attend and express your views.

MCC Community Consultation Meetings

Date Day Meeting Time Town Location Address
05.05.2022 Thursday 6-8pm Gloucester Senior Citizens Hall 
10.05.2022 Tuesday  6-8pm Hallidays Point Kranky Goat
11.05.2022 Wednesday 6-8pm Taree Council Chambers
12.05.2022 Thursday 6-8pm Tea Gardens  Baptist Church
17.05.2022 Tuesday  6-8pm Forster Club Forster
18.05.2022 Wednesday 6-8pm Stroud School of Arts
19.05.2022 Thursday 6-8pm Tinonee Memorial School of Arts
24.05.2022 Tuesday  6-8pm Old Bar Club Old Bar
26.05.2022 Thursday 6-8pm Pacific Palms Community Hall 
31.05.2022 Tuesday  6-8pm Coolongolook Memorial Hall
01.06.2022 Wednesday 6-8pm Harrington Harrington Function Centre
02.06.2022 Thursday 6-8pm Bulahdelah School of Arts

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