Nambucca Shire Council votes to nominate for Joint Organisation

There was blistering debate at the first ordinary council meeting of 2018
There was blistering debate at the first ordinary council meeting of 2018

It was a good thing that there weren’t any ravenous predators hanging around council chambers on Thursday, because the fear was so visceral you couldn’t help but catch a whiff of the pheromones.

Council voted on Thursday on whether or not to voluntarily nominate to be part of a Joint Organisation (JO), in conjunction with any one or more of the following councils: Clarence Valley, Coffs Harbour City, Bellingen, Kempsey or Port Macquarie.

The “carrot” of wedding other councils includes a stronger voice in advocating for changes and a combined pool of resources.

The Deputy Premier has also highlighted that $3.3 million of “seed money” will be available to those councils who nominate themselves for inclusion.

While the “stick”, should we decide to go it alone, appears to be a possible freeze-out from future funding streams.

Nambucca Shire Council artfully dodged a bullet in the last forced council amalgamations, but the fear of a back-door amalgamation still looms large in the collective council conscience – and not just in Nambucca.

Since the Nambucca Shire Council voted on the motion last Thursday, Guardian News has been approached by two other councils eager to see which way we decided to go.

Council debate

Councillor David Jones kicked off proceedings by moving an amendment to decline the invitation to the JO and to quash any future involvement in one fell swoop.

“This is a slippery slope to an amalgamated council,” Cr Jones said.

I think coming up this quickly after the debacle of forced amalgamations, we’d be silly not to add two and two and come up with four.

“We have to put our flag in the sand and say ‘no thanks’... I think we have one chance to say no and it’s tonight.

“We’re not going to lose anything by saying no, but we’ll maintain our autonomy, and not see our resources gobbled up by bigger cities.”

Councillor John Ainsworth also had reservations, in particular over the parameters of the JO, which have not been clearly defined as yet.

“My concern is over planning matters,” Cr Ainsworth said.

“We’ve had no problem with the JO over the tip [in partnership with Bellingen and Coffs Harbour], and procurement is fine.

“But in what way would we partner up? Distance would be an issue and I’ve always had big issues with JOs in this regard.

“Before any JO, I want the other councils’ intentions brought before us.

“I just don’t see JOs being the panacea to saving money as the State Government does.”

Cr Susan Jenvey echoed Cr Ainsworth’s concerns over geographical providence.

“I have real issues with our geography – I feel the shadow of living in the dip of two large cities,” Cr Jenvey said.

But Mayor Rhonda Hoban poured water on the fire by explaining that she believes the JO will “only ever be another glorified MIDROC (Mid North Coast Regional Organisation of Councils)”.

“I’m a bit worried that everyone’s running to the top of the dung hill and planting a flag and it’s based on nothing more than fear,” Cr Hoban said.

I’d counsel people to be very careful because if it’s amalgamation you’re worried about, then by being a standalone small council you’re in more danger than in a JO. Woe be those councils.

“And might I remind everyone of the results of our last public survey: 50 percent of people couldn’t care less and were happy to be amalgamated and another significant percentage were happy to be amalgamated as long as it wasn’t with council X.”

Cr Hoban then went on to remind councillors that the only reason Nambucca had reached its recycling requirements was because of the shared capacity between the three councils in that JO.

“We’re in an agreement, but we still have latitude to work out what’s best for our shire,” mayor Hoban said.

“And there are still a huge amount of people in this council that state politicians need votes from. Don’t ever underestimate the power of the people.”

Cr Jenvey raised a few interesting questions: “Are there penalties for leaving the JO? Can we do it at our discretion?”

To which general manager Michael Coulter replied that the answer to both questions would significantly depend on both the size and nature of the JO.

The motion to defer was voted down in a division, with Crs Reed, Ainsworth, Finlayson, Wilson and mayor Hoban siding against.

A division was then called for the standing motion of Nambucca’s inclusion in the JO which was carried – again with the support of Crs Wilson, Finlayson, Reed, and Ainsworth, and the mayor’s vote as a decider.