Mayoral Update

Mayor Tracy Norman
Mayor Tracy Norman

Martins Creek Quarry Decision
The long-awaited decision on the Martins Creek Quarry came down in favour of Dungog Shire Council. This landmark case resulted in the longest judgement in NSW Land and Environment Court history, and the findings run to 380 pages, which speaks to the complexity of the matter. Thanks goes to the staff and lawyers who worked tirelessly on this case, with a special thanks reserved for Manager of Planning, Jacqui Tupper, who has shown immense dedication and tenacity to get such a positive result for the Paterson and Martins Creek communities. Council staff will be assessing the full implications of this decision and I will report to you further on this matter shortly.

Planning Day
Councillors and senior staff were joined by the Office of Local Government’s Council Engagement Manager, Virginia Errington, and several guest speakers for the first of our planning days. I’d like to thank Virginia and all the Councillors and staff in attendance for their engagement in the process, as well as all the guest speakers for providing their insights in relation to Dungog Shire Council.

The overriding theme of the day for me was that our friends in these organisations are very willing to help us, but we are in the driver’s seat. We need to be guiding the process and helping ourselves. Cr Kate Murphy asked Director, Hunter Regional Coordination Branch Department of Premier and Cabinet, Stephen Wills, about the Special Rates Variation. His answer strongly indicated his belief that Dungog needs to pursue this; that State Government and the various government departments are willing to assist Dungog Shire as long as Dungog Shire is willing to assist itself; that if our rates remain much lower than most other councils, then it reflects poorly on our ability and willingness to progress towards a pathway of sustainability.

NSW Grants Commission
General Manager (GM), Coralie Nichols, and I attended an update from the NSW Grants Commission. The Grants Commission administers the Federal Assistance Grants. The Federal Government awards money to Local Government through these grants, but the states work out where this money goes each year based on various formulas and disability factors, such as proximity to major centres.

Thirty percent of this funding is population based and all councils, regardless of size and ability to source income streams, are eligible for a minimum payment based on the thirty percent. The funding from the Federal Government has been deteriorating for many decades, from one cent in the tax dollar down to .55 cent in the dollar. Local Government NSW and the Australian Local Government Association are lobbying hard for a change back to the one cent in the dollar model. The Grants Commission favours a downwards change to the 30% population factor, which severely impacts rural and regional councils, but it’s difficult to get support from the other states and large metropolitan councils. The Commission also favours increasing the entire bucket, which obviously would make more money available for all councils, which would seem the more likely to succeed given the consensus throughout the entire local government sector.

Members of the Grants Commission suggested that a growing number of councils have identified the problems with the population-based funding and the overall amount of funding allocated to the Local Government Sector from the Federal Government. This year Federal Government funding for all Local Government Areas in the whole of Australia amounts to $2.045 billion, with a paltry $544 million to NSW. As awareness of these issues grow, the Commission Members are expecting more support in lobbying for change.

St Johns Church Lostock
Cr Kate Murphy and I attended a meeting called by the Lostock Community, over the future of the church at Lostock. The church is due to be deconsecrated next week. Around twenty community members gathered to talk about the possibility of forming an incorporated organisation to take over responsibility for the care of the old church, built by their ancestors. They are in on-going discussion as to what the building could be re-purposed for, and what would be involved in its repair and upkeep.

Bandon Grove School of Arts Trivia
Around 120 people attended a trivia night for Bandon Grove School of Arts, to raise valuable funds for the upkeep of this building. The Wallarobba Hall Committee turned out in force in a wonderful gesture of camaraderie. These community committees, along with a host of Council Committees, are keeping our community facilities viable and accessible for the enjoyment and benefit of the wider Dungog Shire Community and should be applauded. It is great to see these groups supporting each other and sharing ideas, all for the betterment of the community. The Bandon Grove Hall Committee recently raised enough money to replace around 200 piers under the hall, and have received a grant from Hunter Water for roof and ceiling repairs.

Hunter Joint Organisation (JO)
We meet this week at Parliament House. The GM and I will attend a function with other member councils and Local State Members and various Ministers and bureaucrats. The Premier and Deputy Premier have both been invited to the function. Last time we met at Parliament House several Ministers also dropped in to the JO meeting for a meet and greet. The GM and I will also be meeting with the Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight, Melinda Pavey, while we are there. This is a follow-up to my meeting earlier this year. We will be forwarding our case about the inequity of the roads and bridges funding model, and the issue with Brig O’Johnson Bridge in Clarence Town. We will also be asking about why other RMS bridges in the Shire, which are no longer heritage listed, are constantly being repaired at great expense, rather than being replaced possibly at a lot less cost.

Mural for Clarence Town Toilets
Clarence Town Toilets are about to get a facelift, with a mural being painted on the outside, beginning this week. The driver behind the project, Clarence School of Art’s Committee Chair, Colleen Duffy, managed to secure a $5000.00 grant, and Council also obtained a small amount of grant money for the project.  This is a two-stage project and Colleen is hunting for some more grant money for stage 2.

Ordinary Meeting of Council
Please note that the next ordinary meeting of Council will take place at 6pm this Wednesday (17 October) at Council Chambers. As always, I encourage you to attend.

Australia Day Awards
The Australia Day Committee will meet later this week to determine award categories. Announcements of the categories will follow soon after. These awards are an opportunity to recognise and thank those who have made an outstanding contribution to community life in the past year.

Local Government NSW Conference
The GM and I are heading to Albury at the end of this week to attend the conference. I will report on what comes out of this in the next couple of weeks.

Regards Tracy Norman

Dungog Shire Mayor

15 October 2018