Port residents will be worse off with merger

As a resident of Port Stephens for the past 20 years, a former councillor for nine years, a mayor for two years and a director of Horizons Golf Resort which contributes $2 million to the local economy,  I would like to offer my insight to the proposed council merger.

It appears that the NSW Government has made up its mind that our council is to be merged with Newcastle and I can assure you that if we, the people of Port Stephens, had been presented with demonstrated and tangible benefits of a merger, we would support the change.

But what we have before us is totally unacceptable. A merger of two organisations that are clearly not equals can not be supported by the residents of Port Stephens.

With more than $100 million worth of clean assets, an IPART rating that Port Stephens Council is fit for the future and a council that is structured for growth, to be suggested to merge, or as many believe, taken over by an embattled council is unreasonable.

The residents of Port Stephens need to know categorically that their needs will not be overshadowed by the needs of Newcastle.

That roads, waste and the many other services offered is not in any way inferior to what they have now, or what is being offered in Newcastle.

Equality in councillor representation for the first two terms of an amalgamated council would be a significant way to demonstrate that the proposal is weighted towards benefiting all.

There should also be an extensive due diligence approach to ensure that Port Stephens residents are not charged higher rates than would otherwise have been the case if this merger did no go ahead.

When it comes to staff on Port Stephens Council, serious consideration must be given to their futures.

While I always believe the best person should get the job, it is clear to me that based on past performances the Port Stephens staff must be given absolute commitment that opportunities in the new structure are offered to them prior to going to market.

I would encourage the NSW Premier Mike Baird and minister for local government Paul Toole to think hard about what happens next and listen to what the residents of Port Stephens have to say so that in the end we can continue to let our great area prosper for all to enjoy.