Why does Dungog Shire Council have to change from the status quo?
The Council is not currently financially sustainable. Recent Local Government reforms in NSW have prompted a comprehensive review of Councils’ operations and finances. As a result, the NSW Government requires Dungog Shire Council to become financially sustainable. The Council is now investigating and discussing with the community possibilities for the future including merger partners, a boundary adjustment and stand-alone options for Dungog.
What are the options available to Dungog Shire in relation to amalgamation?
The priority is for Council to become financially sustainable while providing the appropriate levels of service to the community into the future. There are a variety of possibilities for Dungog Shire Council including a merger with Maitland City Council, a merger with Port Stephens Council, a boundary adjustment with neighbouring Councils or to stand alone with a new financially sustainable model.
What happens next?
At this stage, the Mayor, Councillors and Council Executive are focused on disseminating factual information to the Dungog community to facilitate sound and informed decision making in the Election, Referendum and Poll which are taking place on 9 September. Following September 9, the Mayor and Councillors will have a clearer picture as to the community’s desires for the future. This will assist Council to make decisions to continue to progress this matter in a timely fashion.
At each step of the way, the community will be informed and consulted. The Council is committed to a financially sustainable future which is in the best interests of the community.
If Dungog Shire continues to stand-alone, how will it meet its infrastructure backlog?
Council will need to review all expenditure and income opportunities, including sharing services with other Councils, the outsourcing of functions where there are economies and efficiencies to be gained, the potential for other sources of income including grants, fees, charges and rate increases (including special rate variations to address infrastructure needs).
Will my rates increase?
It is reasonable to expect that rates will increase, in any scenario. A sound business case needs to be made for any proposed rate increase, the community needs to be properly consulted and there needs to be evidence that the community has the capacity to pay any proposed increase.
How do our residential rates compare to other Councils?
The most recent Residential Ordinary Rate figures published by the Office of Local Government are for the 2014/15 year and show the Dungog rate as $768 compared with $1055 for Maitland and $925 for Port Stephens.
How are rate levels determined?
Rate levels are based on the following:
- Services and service levels required to meet community needs identified through community consultation
- Services required to meet Council’s legislative requirements
- Infrastructure maintenance and renewal requirements (such as roads and bridges which may be addressed through a special rate variation)
- Affordability, i.e. the community’s capacity to pay.
Any proposed rate increases and details of what the increase will fund, must be communicated to residents and ratepayers for feedback prior to being submitted to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) for consideration.
What representation will I have with Council?
In any scenario, the values and desires of the community have to be considered. It is too early to predict what form this representation will take, however any Council should be committed to ensuring the community’s best interests are represented into the future.
If Dungog continues to stand-alone, Council must implement the results of the referendum at the September 2017 election in respect to the number of Councillors and the continuation of wards, prior to the next election in 2020.
If Council merges then one of the considerations undertaken by the Boundary Commission is the representation of voters. Dungog currently has around 1,000 voters per Councillor, while Port Stephens and Maitland have around 6000-7000 voters per Councillor.
The Boundary commission will also consider the community’s preference for the number of wards and whether Dungog has its own ward. A possibility is that Dungog remains as a rural ward in the transition period if a merger occurs.
Will I continue to receive the services currently managed by Council e.g. waste collection?
Yes. Throughout the consultation process and in any future scenario, the core services provided by Council will continue.
Will there be a change in the services Council provides?
Council must review its services to ensure it is delivering the most needed services, in the best way and as economically as possible. This review will be done in consultation with the community and will ensure that the services provided to the community are affordable and meet the community’s needs.
Will my potholes be repaired?
Each year Council provides a budget for road maintenance in accordance with the priority works based on an assessment of the condition of the road, the level of use and the risk to the public. Council is very aware that without extra income, the backlog of roads maintenance will not be addressed and will continue to increase.
A merger may result in a possible additional $10M from the NSW Government for infrastructure for the new Shire.
Will community assets, such as halls, parks and showgrounds be retained, maintained and improved?
All Council facilities have to be reviewed regularly to determine their suitability to address community needs.
This is also required as part of Council’s asset planning to meet the directions and services identified in the Community Strategic Plan. Funding is allocated for maintenance of such assets in Council’s Annual Operational Plan and Budget, which are placed on public exhibition for community feedback prior to being adopted by Council.
Will Council Committees continue?
Council reviews all Council Committees, such as the Health, Arts and Cultural and 355 Committees, as part of the planning and budgeting process annually. These plans and budgets are placed on public exhibition for community feedback before being adopted by Council.
Will our rural life as we know it be retained?
Council is required to develop a Local Land Use Strategy, which would identify the areas set aside for rural purpose. Through previous consultations the Dungog community places a very high value on rural lifestyle and amenity within the Shire. This is reflected in all Council’s planning and strategy documents and should be a consideration in all possible future scenarios.
Will the same number of Council Staff be retained in Dungog so the community retains local access to services?
Under the rural employment centre provisions of the Local Government Act, Dungog Council will retain its local presence with the same number of staff as far as practicable for the delivery of services.
After the Poll is taken, if there is a preference for a merger, what does Council need to do?
In order to follow the wishes of the community, Council would need to complete a full examination of the merger options/s and enter into discussions with the neighbouring Council/s whose communities will need to be consulted.
How long will a merger take?
There is a lot of work to be done to ensure all of the legislative requirements are met in a merger situation. It is reasonable to expect that a merger could be completed within the term of the new Council.
What will happen in the meantime?
In any scenario, Council will need to focus on the future financial sustainability of the Council.
What should I consider when thinking about the merger options?
It is important to consider what is important to you and where you feel an affinity. Some considerations for you may be rural links, community and service links, economic and employment links, land use and development, transport, recreational and cultural links.
Why is Council undertaking community consultation?
Dungog Council wants to understand from the community what your preferences are in relation to the future administration structure for the Dungog Shire. This information will assist Council to make decisions in the best interests of the Dungog community.
Authorised By: Nancy Knudsen, 198 Dowling Street, Dungog.