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Truth, transparency and trust

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Clarence Valley Council (CVC) has held two public meetings to discuss its proposed application for a special rate variation (SRV) and its plan to meet its Fit for the Future obligations.
At Grafton on Tuesday November 22, six or seven residents reportedly attended; while at the Maclean meeting on Wednesday, 12 residents attended.
At the Maclean meeting, several residents raised perceived issues, including: the lack of communication regarding the meetings taking place; and, the biased nature of the SRV survey (online and via a commissioned telephone survey); among other subjects.
Maclean resident and former Maclean shire councillor Bill Day said: “I’m interested in the three Tees: truth, transparency and trust” and claimed “this meeting was poorly advertised” and that the resultant turnout was “not a demonstration of apathy, but a demonstration of people not knowing the meeting was on”.
On this issue, CVC advertised in the Independent as follows: October 26, a half-page advertisement did not mention the public meetings, but noted that there would be “numerous opportunities for residents to provide their views”; November 9, a half page ad advises on SRV percentages, provides some outcome scenarios and gives notice of where and when meetings would be held; November 23, a CVC media release is distributed on Friday 18 (advising that the consultation time had been extended from November 25 to December 2), too late for that week’s paper, which means it was published on the day of the Maclean meeting and the day after Grafton’s.
While most residences had received the information for ratepayers brochure and mayoral letter by Friday November 18 (there are a number of incidences of people not receiving the mail-out), there was no advice included regarding the public meetings.

. Several people raised the perceived bias of the surveys; Mr Day said he had completed both the online survey and had been contacted and completed the telephone survey.
“The community has lost trust in the council by presenting things like the SRV in a non objective way,” Mr Day said.
“We all know you can do a survey to achieve the outcome that you want; the opening statement of the survey, that council does not receive enough revenue, is not an objective statement.”
Many of the people who have commented on the clarenceconversations.com.au website are critical of the survey’s lack of objectivity. “I agree with the points made in previous posts; the survey is loaded and is a waste of time,” one commenter wrote last Friday.
The council’s corporate director, Ashley Lindsay, confirmed to those at the meeting that only the telephone survey is regarded as “statistically valid”.
Answering a question on the council’s plan to save $70,000 by withdrawing the post office as a place for people to pay their rates, he said: “Obviously we have will have to come up with an alternative for making payments.”
He also confirmed that there were no plans to borrow any more money for the council’s general fund – the council’s new loans policy is currently on exhibition – despite the policy flagging that the “2016 debt review report supports an additional $5m in borrowing for the general fund”.
This report also assessed that the council’s overall sustainable debt level could be raised from $110m to $131m and “suggests the General Fund on a standalone basis has additional debt capacity of up to approximately $40M (for 2015/16 and 2016/17)”.
However, Mr Lindsay said: “When we went to [consultants] Ernst and Young, we asked if there was capacity [to borrow] as an option; but council has no appetite for additional borrowing.”
Mr Lindsay said that a $5m internal loan from the water fund, to meet a “cash flow issue”, to allow the construction of the depot at South Grafton, was no longer necessary.
“We’ve pretty much sold all of the properties” that were put on the market towards funding the depot’s construction, he said.
“There is a report going to council’s December meeting, which will explain it.”
The mayor, Jim Simmons told those present that “it should not be taken for granted” that the council will adopt the SRV.
“Whether adopted or not there will be service cuts, and it will be a fairly dramatic cut; it should have been addressed several years back … this current group of councillors and council officers are going to address that situation,” he said.
Erin Molloy said she didn’t want to “let the issue of trust [and transparency] get knocked off the discussion” and quoted Office of Local Government and IPART documents.
“The words are ‘turning community aspirations into reality’, so I understand it’s a big challenge making the transition from short term planning, which has contributed towards getting into this trouble, and longer term planning, 10 years.
“It seems to me if we are not going to have this backlash from the community there has to be more engagement and sincerity.
“Don’t insult our intelligence with those surveys.
“It’ll be easier for council if they take the community with them … don’t be seen as elitist and treating people as a bunch of deplorables,” which elicited laughter from most in attendance.
Recordings of the meetings can be heard on CVC’s website at the bottom of the meeting podcasts page.

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