Eungai proposal stymied by council's eye on future maintenance demands

THE IDEA: A playground for children in Eungai
THE IDEA: A playground for children in Eungai

An attempt to access grant funding for a playground and toilet in Eungai has been stymied by Nambucca Shire Council, who says it will wind up with the ongoing, unfunded maintenance of the facility.

Eungai resident Carol Minors said the whole process, which began as a way to give the tiny town what it desperately needs and help put it on the tourist map, ended up being frustrating and deeply disheartening.

Carol's plan was to seize the opportunity presented by the NSW Government's 'My Community Project', which is designed for residents to have a direct say about which projects they want delivered in their local community.

There is $260,000 available in each electorate to fund projects valued between $20,000 and $200,000 with community members voting for their preferred projects, either a number of times for cheaper, smaller projects for their area or for a single more expensive one.

"A playground and a public toilet are normal things for small towns," Carol said.

"With the highway bypass, people come into town for a fuel stop and ask for a toilet ... we can only direct them to rest areas north and south on the highway, which is often not well received."

So Carol, and others from the community, went ahead and prepared an application including quotes for the playground and the toilet.

"I submitted it online and then found that in his report to the council, Mr Coulter had not approved our project because it was not properly funded, which I maintain it was. He approved three other community projects and two council community projects.

"I don't think it is right that he is the arbiter of this process."

The problem was that the chosen area is on council land, and under the guidelines, the project had to be sponsored by them, requiring, according to the general manager, Michael Coulter, no small amount of paperwork.

"When it comes to projects like this, the infrastructure is just the beginning. The operating costs and depreciation are there forever and that makes or breaks a project's sustainability," Mr Coulter said.

"And in the case of toilets, we calculate the cost of cleaning, paper and repairs from vandalism costs around $10,000 per year ... those costs come back on the council. At the moment we are undergoing a process of rationalising our amenities, just as we did with our rubbish bins a few years ago."

He said there was nothing in the community project guidelines that prevented councils from applying alongside community groups, however questioned the process, which could put councils at odds with their communities.

"For all its faults, council does consult widely and is pretty in touch with what communities might desire through our 355 committees ... and there are processes to do what we can for them.

"This is a whole separate process using electorate-wide voting as the deciding mechanism - how does a village of 500 achieve equity against Kempsey with a population of 10,000?"

A spokesperson for the Member for Oxley, Melinda Pavey, said no matter the project place, a good community project would be selected by locals and the process aimed to transcend parochialism.

Voting for all the projects opened on Monday and closes on August 15. You can browse all 20 Oxley projects and register your vote by going to mycommunityproject.service.nsw.gov.au.

Successful projects will be announced in September on the My Community Project web page.

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