By Paul Amos
I am a councillor on the Coffs Harbour Council. This is a role I take very seriously and comes with great responsibility. One of these responsibilities is to keep the people who voted for me informed of how things are going.
Many of you are good enough to say hello and let me know about community concerns, but it’s difficult to catch up with everyone as frequently as would be ideal. Hopefully these memorandums are helpful in this regard. The year seems to be going quickly and it is worth stopping to take stock of some of the issues that seem to have emerged already this year, and late last year. I would also like to flag some of the upcoming challenges as I see them.
Firstly, a quick (frank) appraisal on where the council sits financially. We are slipping slightly behind on our expected targets. If we look at our performance before government grants, subsidies and donations we are now expected, this year, to be in deficit to the tune of $4,000,000…the original expectation was a $64,000 deficit. I believe, of concern is that this position is actually understated. This is because of a revaluation of the water and sewer assets in 2017, giving us a “windfall” on paper. This has created a $7,000,000 reduction in the book value of our depreciation expense. If not for this unexpected occurrence after our 4-year budget was originally defined, we would now be showing a $11,000,000 deficit. We are trending the wrong way.
The concept of our leasing the Airport and Enterprise Park which may lead us to having an international airport is very alluring. I think most would support this. I supported this in the chamber vote because it is important that the community has confidence in Council’s efforts towards this end. I still have some concerns as to the robustness of the financial modelling figures councillors received to form our decision. However, I hope we can move on to the next step with an “offer too good to refuse”.
Some major infrastructure projects that require immediate attention include the Woolgoolga and Sawtell pool renovations, establishment of a new garbage facility (now 4 years from capacity), upgrading our water and sewer assets and resurfacing of the airport runway. In my view, these are the sorts of ‘nuts and bolts’ things that we must focus on first. They might not grab headlines and there is no ribbon cutting, but these are critical if we are to efficiently use public funds and provide safe facilities.
The new Council Chambers/ Library/ Art Gallery proposal is something I am still finding hard to support. In our current position, we simply can’t afford the proposal as it stands. Costs are already blowing out and I fear it could be done better and cheaper if all options were considered. It seems to have been a process of making a wish list, then making the budget fit, rather than setting a budget that is responsible, and determining the maximum value that can be achieved based on all the options.
I am very keen not to see us go into an astronomical amount of debt to fund a pet project. It is well and good to want to build a flashy building for the council chambers and leave a cultural legacy, we all do, but if this comes with a ball and chain of debt that rate payers and the next generation have to manage for the next 30 years through rate rises or cuts to other services, we can’t go down this road.
Sometimes, the good work initiated by Councillors and Council are goes unreported. Examples would be our implementation of a local preference policy for tenderers, which means that there is now some additional support for local contractors in a tight tendering situation. Others include incentives being offered for developers to build residential apartments in our CBD and rural land holders now being able to build a second detached residence on their property. This is reflecting the changing way that people like to live and share their space and should make Coffs Harbour properties a desirable investment.
A quick note on the Bypass. It is good we now have what seems to be general consensus on tunnels being our best option. However, there is no firm commitment from the politicians at the higher level and quite often the “back door” is left open by the rider that “all vehicles must be able to travel on any Bypass”. This leaves the possibility that short, high tunnels will be delivered. Beware of these slippery sorts of promises. If this shortcut is taken, we will be left with a high, imposing road with a lid on it. We must keep the pressure in place for comprehensive tunnels to be built.
With some knowledge of Local Government now, I feel compelled to comment on our needs at the next level of government. We are coming to a State election with several “once in a generation” issues. These include the quality of the City Bypass road, the future of our public spaces such as the Jetty Foreshores and the health of our creeks and waterways. All are time critical and all are issues that may put State Government priorities in conflict with our local community priorities.
With our long-standing State representative retiring, there is a risk that whoever comes next (regardless of party affiliations and Bypass promises) will be viewed as the ‘new kid on the block’. It’s conceivable that the ‘new kid on the block’ may be told to sit down and shut up. Accordingly, I would encourage voters to ask the candidates what their response would be in this situation. Let’s be a little selfish here and concentrate on our immediate “world”. Let’s pick someone who will put our community before personal or professional allegiances or self-serving career aspirations. We need to be certain our representative will have the guts and grit to fight for impact rather than their own survival.
It is time to back a person not a party. We need to choose our representation on the basis of selfless contribution, and a pledge that they will exert strength for our community before their party position. Nationals, Labour, Greens or Independent ….it does not matter. We need to back someone with our community interest at heart and loyalty first and foremost to our community.
I would encourage any undecided voters to ask the question….” what will you say if you are told to fall into line?”
Thank you for you continued support. I know I will not please all the people all the time, but I am giving it my best shot.
Cheers ….Paul Amos
Editors note: The above is the latest in a series of emails sent out to ratepayers and constituents by Cr Amos on Thursday 7 March 2019.
It is reproduced in its entirety with the only changes being to emphasis and lay out.