Gwydir Shire Council’s draft Management Plan for the period 2008 -2009 to 2010 -2011 was adopted at its meeting, held last Thursday in Bingara. The motion to adopt the plan was narrowly carried, Councillors Tremain, Rose and Gordon voting against the motion due to the inclusion of $10,000 from rates allocated towards a feasibility study on the Bingara Farm Gardens concept. (The State Government has promised $10,000 for the study as well.)
The draft had been on display for the statutory period. Two written submissions were received along with one verbal submission. One of the submissions in part related to funds directed to projects like the Riverscape and the Bingara Farm Gardens, while the other expressed concerns about the availability of vehicles to Council employees.
Director of Corporate Services, Ron Wood, opened the discussion on the motion to adopt the Management Plan, suggesting that it is most important to put in place strategic plans for each of the asset groups. Mr Wood made a number of adjustments to the budget, which brought comments from the General Manager about the valuable contribution he will be able to make to the financial management of the Council.
General Manager, Max Eastcott said that John Mongard had empha-sised the importance of establishing a civic park in Warialda’s main street to lift the spirit of Warialda. This will involve the relocation of the Police to the Ambulance Station and the demolition of the vacated building. The land will also have to be purchased by Council. This project has strong support from the Warialda community.
The importance of a cash surplus in the budget was argued by a number of the councillors. Cr Tremain asserted that Council should have a significant cash surplus in the order of $500,000. Mayor, Peter Caskey disagreed, saying that “Council is in the business of providing services. We are not focussed on making a profit. We need to spend the funds we have on roads and other services. We are not here to amass funds.” General Manager, Max Eastcott was not in favour of surpluses either, saying that he believed it was outrageous that the Federal Government has a surplus while “there are people living in cars, roads are falling apart” and local government starved for funds.
The farm gardens project was discussed at length again, many of the points raised having been discussed at the last council meeting. Cr Clem Gordon questioned the veracity of the feasibility study, saying that it will be only as good as the person doing it. Some of the councillors were concerned about the amount of money that will be needed to fund the project, however, Cr Pankhurst said “we need something to keep our small towns going.” Cr Egan joined in saying “We need to move beyond roads, rates and rubbish. We have to take ourselves forward and think outside the square.” Cr Wearne said that Council will need a business plan for the gardens project before it can approach the government for funding, therefore it was essential to do a business plan. The alternative is to dismiss the idea altogether.
Another point raised by Cr Rose was whether the land will be available to the Council to use. Mr East-cott assured him that he had permission from the Lands Department in Moree but Cr Rose questioned the reliability of the assurance given by the Lands Department.
Crs Rose and Tremain moved that the $20,000 allocated for the study into the farm gardens project be removed from the budget until the level of grant funding has been established and the status of the land verified, but the motion was lost. (There was some discussion about the $20,000 allocated for the feasibility study. $10,000 has been allocated from Gwydir Shire Council’s budget and $10,000 has been offered by the State Government. Cr Rose was adamant that the whole $20,000 represented ratepayers’ money. Cr Caskey suggested it was about time those who lived on the coast contributed something to works in the Gwydir community.) Council was assured by Mr East-cott that no action would be taken by staff concerning the feasibility study on the Farm Gardens concept without the formal approval of the elected Council. It was suggested that no such decision could be taken by the present Council, it would have to be decided by the newly elected Council.