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Councillors speak on SRV … reluctantly

Geoff Helisma |

When councillors considered the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal’s (IPART) approval of Clarence Valley Council’s special rate variation (SRV), it almost went to a vote without any comment by the eight councillors at last week’s council meeting – Cr Jason Kingsley was absent.

Mayor Jim Simmons: “Any questions councillors? Need for debate?”

Following seven seconds of silence the mayor said, “I think we should make some comment and I would just like to say from my point of view that Cr Baker might like to … it’s your motion.”

“I believe all of the discussion, debate has been had,” Cr Baker said.

He said that “we can now give the public certainty on what the financial position will be as a result of IPART’s decision”.

Mayor Simmons was again met with silence when he called for further speakers, and then said in part: “I recognise the IPART’s decision … will result in substantial cost to rate payers.

“If IPART had not approved the SRV then there would have been a further serious reduction of services provided by council.”

Cr Novak, who voted against accepting the SRV, followed suit and said: “I know there will be many people who will be disappointed, but I’m really hoping that those people, along with myself … take the umpire’s decision.”

Cr Karen Toms said: “We have to accept the umpire’s decision because this is a democracy.

She urged residents to read the IPART’s decision and see that CVC “has demonstrated the need for this variation”.

“It was something we needed to do for the benefit of this valley … if this wasn’t supported we would have had a very much poorer community because we would have had to make some very tough decisions, tougher than this one.

“I hope the community will accept that we are being responsible in governing this council … the alternative would have been very, very difficult for our community to swallow.

“We … made a very good decision in helping to move this council forward … and still retain many of the things our communities cherish.”

Cr Greg Clancy said he “came into council with a promise not to support an SRV in the first six months of the new council”.

“I’m still being accused of selling my soul or changing my view … but I stuck to my word,” he said.

“What we have now is a reasonable compromise,” compared to the 41 per cent increase flagged before the election.

He said he didn’t “have any regrets” and that he was “really impressed with the executive team and how they have worked hard … to bring council into a more efficient organisation”.

Cr Richie Williamson said: “I wasn’t going to speak … but I will.”

He congratulated “his colleagues” and said debate in the chamber on the issue had always been “thoughtful” and “respectful”.

Notwithstanding that someone from the community could propose an alternative plan to what will be on exhibition over the coming weeks, he said the SRV “debate has been had and democracy has ultimately played out”.

Cr Peter Ellem began, “firstly, for anyone who thinks I broke an election promise, I apologise wholeheartedly, but I went into the election campaign saying the scale of a 42 per cent SRV was way too high for me and, in the course of the campaign, I said my preference was to look for savings and for the SRV … to be a last resort”.

He said if the IPART had not approved the SRV “we would have been faced with a nightmarish scenario in terms of job cuts, probably 60 or 70 … and much deeper cuts to community services”.

Cr Ellem had some pointed words for those who publically opposed the SRV.

“There is a lot of shrill commentary out there in the community from people who missed out on election in September 2016,” he said.

“They have axes to grind; they pitch people against this council and they will do and or say almost anything to discredit this council.”

Cr Lysaught said he was “still learning” and reiterated what other councillors said, concluding his speech with: “If someone had advised me we would have got to this point in a respectful and gentlemanly manner, I would have said, ‘bullshit!’, but we’ve managed to do it and … [general manager Ashley Lindsay] and his support staff should be congratulated.”

Councillor Baker plied a similar line to Cr Ellem.

“I tried to head this off at the pass when I said I didn’t want to go back beyond today, but each speaker has touched on … the past.”

He said he agreed with Cr Ellem “for the first time”.

He said that he “knows” that the community can live with the SRV “despite finding out to my amazement that 6,000 people can work out how to cut and paste documents to send off to IPART”.

“This community will be far better off with the work that we have done to date,” he said.