This is intended as a quick update for all who supported me in the last Council elections. The first six months as a Councillor have been all consuming. From the outset I have to say I’m very impressed with my fellow councilors. All appear to be there because they get a kick out of helping people. insight to the role, initially there is an avalanche of Council policies and strategies to be absorbed. It is also important to make decisions in the context of Council’s financial position position is more sound than most, but, Councils are always struggling to provide any services above the core components as revenue is capped and expenses are Constant. in the Financial year just completed, before the uncertain windfalls of grants and the like. Council will probably run at an $ $8m loss. This is an improvement on previous years and is tracking well toward State Government imposed targets to become “Fit for the Future”. However there is little margin for error or discretionary spending.
To give you an idea of how the standard Councillor week works , we receive our papers around mid afternoon Friday which allows us to go through the papers in preparation for briefing at Council on Monday afternoon. We have a council meeting every second Thursday night, a meeting protocol is another solid challenge. Council papers can vary from 200 to 2,000 pages. On top of the Council meetings there are community inquiries and various other briefings and committee meetings to attend.
In addition to reviewing information and decision brought to us, Councillors are able to raise a notice of motion that initiates action to be taken by the Council staff. I am proud to say my first notice of motion was in relation to the Council allocating substantial resources and time to a meaningful, committed plan to restore Coffs Creek back to its former good health. Some locals will remember deep swimming holes at multiple locations in the Creek and no concerns about water quality and this is what I seek to see once more. At the same meeting on February 23rd, responding to community concerns, I put a notice of motion relating to the “urgent” installation of a 20 meter guard rail in Robin Street near Narranga Primary School, the site of a previous fatality. My fellow Councillors supported these motions unanimously. I note this urgent work is still pending.
There have been a few important decisions I did not support with the majority. Briefly here are my justifications.
I did not support us spending $6.5m on the addition of grandstands at the stadium simply because the project funding timeline meant that the outdated stadium design of 25 years ago would be the grandstand to be built. I felt we should have current, modern grandstands and, if not, we could spend the money better elsewhere. I want to see us leading the way in the quality of our sporting facilities, not accepting second best.
I did not support the proposal to build a new Council office, regional Art Gallery/Library complex. Remember, this decision is made in the context of the Council’s financial position of an $8m likely deficit. My assessment was that the current Council chambers had been built to take a third story and as such this option should be pursued for Council office extensions and Rigby House (the site of the current Library/Gallery) should be upgraded to accommodate a modernized regional Gallery and Library.
I felt committing to such a major project ($37m) whilst developing land at Christmas Bells Drive was a financial risk to the community if costs blew out. I also felt we should be building a “war chest” to be in a position to buy land back from the State Government around the Jetty Foreshores area if it became available. This should rightly belong to the people of Coffs Harbour.
Although I did not support the Gallery/Library project by way of supporting vote, I will now give it my full energy to see the project is delivered on time and on budget to provide a facility we can be proud of, as is the duty of a Councillor once a binding decision is made.
Over six months ago the State Government representatives asked for the undertaking to be kept confidential information relating to the development proposal of the Jetty Foreshore precinct. These undertakings came with a time deadline on the release of information to the public that have been nowhere near met. There seems to be a public perception that a large component of the land sold will be destined for complementary commercial activities such as al fresco dining opportunities. I have not seen any evidence of this, but rather the intent for intensive housing. This will see out most utilised free public leisure space privatised for use by the highest bidder with profits payable to the State Government. I question whether this is good use of local community funds currently being used to improve the jetty if the use of this area will only be for the lucky few, rather than being open to the whole community as it is now.
The current works in the Yacht Club have a few design faults in my opinion. Parking near the beach has been substantially reduced and as further proof of beach users being neglected, ramp access in the North Eastern corner has been eliminated. This “step only” access restricts the very young, elderly and water craft users to negotiating the “deep drop” steps or taking the long detour back to the southern corner of the Yacht Club for access. It makes no sense and is a backward step in beach access for those who use it most.
The Swimming Pool Contract Saga
I don’t believe we should ever give Council leases the term of 20 years as we have recently seen. If we are offering a contract. Councillors should be included at the stage where the tender guidelines are set. Councillors should have the ability to allow dispensation for long service e.g. 30 years of being a pool operator, then this can be accommodated in the assessment process. The local preference option needs to be considered. Yes, it would be hard to formulate but not impossible. Other Councils such as Tweed Heads have such an arrangement. Why should some of our builders in town lose tenders on million dollar jobs for the sake of a few thousand dollars? I see nothing wrong with supporting suppliers demonstrating a history of commitment to our area and an obvious intention to continue this commitment.
The Biggest Challenge?
Aside from remaining serious for long periods of time, the biggest challenge is observing unintended consequences that have not been anticipated and have arisen from Council decisions on an operational and strategic level.
Thank you for continuing to share your opinions to shape what I do in representing our community and for the timely encouragement along the way.
Moose (aka Councillor Paul Amos as my wife refuses to call me).