The Coffs Coast Outlook has seen numerous copies of letters sent by ratepayers to the Minister for Local Government, Shelley Hancock, after the Coffs Harbour Council’s contentious vote on 8 August on the new Council Chambers/Civic Centre.
One that caught our eye, because of the detailed and serious nature of the allegations, was the one we publish in part below by retired local engineer Peter Higgins. Today we publish below the first of several excerpts from that letter.
By Peter Higgins
“As a resident and ratepayer of the Coffs Harbour Local Government Area, l am writing to request your immediate intervention in the actions and proposed actions of the Coffs Harbour City Council (CHCC) generally and, in particular, in the matter of the proposed Cultural and Civic Space Project.
The intervention which I request could take the following forms (or other as deemed appropriate by you and the officers of you Department) –
Preferably, the immediate dismissal of elected Councillors and the General Manager and replacement with an Administrator for a period of, say, five years.
An order by you that all matters in relation to the proposed Civic and Cultural Space Project be immediately suspended, including the cessation of the spending any further monies, until further advice from you following the investigation of all aspects of the project by a panel of appropriately qualified and experienced professionals appointed by you.”
“Explanation and Expansion of Reasons for Request
The following is from an attachment to a letter to the Hon. Shelley Hancock MP, Minister for Local Government dated 11 August 2019.
The letter sets out grounds for intervention in the affairs of the Coffs Harbour City Council (CHCC) generally, and, in particular, in relation to the proposed Civic and Cultural Space Project.
In this attachment, some details are taken from the CHCC web site www://haveyoursay.coffs harbour.nsw.gov.au/cultural-and-civic space/faqs#question41853.
The figures/statements come from CHCC’s responses to FAQs (frequently asked questions).
CHCC has blatantly and deliberately ignored the wishes of ratepayers
The first part of this section does not relate directly to the Civic and Cultural Space Project but is included as an illustration of the CHCC’s attitude to public consultation and to its ratepayers.
CHCC applied to IPART for a permanent notional general rise of 8.14% in 2015/16 and a further 7.75% in 2016/17.
The proposal was put out to a ratepayer survey through an information booklet and voting (post) card, responses being made either on-line or by return of the post card, and was emphatically rejected by respondents.
As reported in the Coffs Coast Advocate (11 February, 2015, page 7), the on-line survey showed 71% opposing the rate rise and 29% in favour.
The post card survey was more emphatic, showing 88% of respondents opposed and only 11% in favour.
The report goes on to say “council staff said that this was a self-selecting sample that could not reliably be considered representative of the general community.”
This statement is staggering in its duplicity, arrogance and implication. Any survey that relies on responses that are not compulsory is, by its very nature, self-selecting, and Councillors and Council staff would have been aware of this before the survey was circulated to ratepayers.
The inevitable conclusion, therefore, is that there was never any intention to abide by the wishes expressed by ratepayers through the survey unless the result supported the proposal for rate increases.
This is an outrageous abuse of the “process” of public consultation.
At about the same time, CHCC proposed the construction of new cultural facilities – performance space, library and art gallery – for the following estimated costs, at the same time, proposing the following increases to the ordinary general rate to fund the facilities –
|Cost||Increase in Ordinary General Rate|
|Art gallery||$5.6 million||1.52%|
The CHCC asked for ratepayer opinion in a “community engagement process” via a selected panel and community response with the following results —
Wlling to contribute (Y). Not willing to contribute at rate increase at rate increase specified (N).
Once again, notwithstanding this unambiguous statement from ratepayers that they were not willing to pay rate increases to fund the cultural abilities as proposed, CHCC resolved at its 18 December meeting 2014 to proceed.
What the information brochure issued by CHCC did not tell ratepayers was that the cost for every year for 20 years would be a $2.1 million loan repayment + $2.6 million operating cost (Council figures) less income of $80,000 (my figure), giving a yearly cost of $4.62 million or $88,850 per week.
I believe that it is clear from the above that CHCC totally ignores the wishes of ratepayers, notwithstanding clear and unambiguous statements of those wishes and provides information to ratepayers that does not tell the whole story.
Further, with regard to the current proposal for the Civic and Cultural Space Project, several public meetings have undeniably rejected the project, yet CHCC persists.”
Peter Higgins is a long standing resident of the the Coffs Coast and is a retired engineer.
Further extracts from his letter to Minister Hancock of 11 August will be published here this week.
Editors note: The Coffs Coast Outlook ran an analysis of the consultation and rates process mentioned above about 18 months ago and arrived at very similar conclusions to Peter Higgins.