Dungog Mayor's focus on funding for community

PORT Stephens mayor Bruce MacKenzie’s shotgun wedding proposal to Dungog Shire Council last week – “Merge with us or you’ll wither and die” – has been politely sidestepped by Dungog mayor Harold Johnstone.

“It’s a difficult enough situation we’re in, but it becomes more difficult when you get this outside push, because we don’t get that from Maitland,” said Cr Johnstone, who quietly met with Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton last week to argue the shire deserved extra support after the on-again, off-again local government merger process.

Dungog was the only council in NSW with three merger proposals, and final recommendations to merge with both Maitland and Port Stephens, after the costly amalgamation process that started in 2011.

“It has cost us millions of dollars,” Cr Johnstone said.

“In the last 16 months, council has abided by the constraints of the Government’s merger proposals waiting for the Government to make a decision. This has had devastating impacts.”

The Fit for the Future process had cost money, staff time, and a likely merger with a larger council meant the council lost five or six experienced staff.

The merger costs occurred in the same period that Dungog suffered devastating floods in 2015, and as it prepared for a costly legal battle with Daracon over expansion of Martins Creek Quarry that continues in the NSW Land and Environment Court.

“For now, our focus is on securing funding to support our community. 

“We put four recommendations to the Minister and will be seeking meetings with the Premier and Deputy Premier to discuss these solutions as well,” Cr Johnstone said.

 “We believe it is important that a ‘whole of Government’ process now be implemented to support rural and vulnerable councils that were targeted for amalgamation in order to strive for sustainability of these Councils.”

TOUGH SITUATION: Dungog Mayor Harold Johnstone said the council was considering two reports considering mergers with Port Stephens and Maitland.

TOUGH SITUATION: Dungog Mayor Harold Johnstone said the council was considering two reports considering mergers with Port Stephens and Maitland.

Cr Johnstone said Dungog councillors were considering two lengthy reports recommending Maitland and Port Stephens mergers.

“We’ll be looking at what’s best for this community. I’ve asked all councillors to be familiar with both reports so we can consider the matter objectively.”

Cr Johnstone said he had argued that the NSW Government should financially compensate councils who had engaged with the amalgamation process but were left high and dry after the NSW Government stopped council mergers.