The mayor of Port Stephens, Cr Bruce MacKenzie, isn’t perturbed with the $40 million it would take to repair Dungog’s roads and bridges if there was a merger.
Dungog Shire Council will reconsider a voluntary merger with Port and its financial lifeline on May 16.
Cr Bruce MacKenzie said so long as the state government made good on its previous pledge to financially support amalgamated councils, the cash would be a good start.
“Say we get $10 million or $15 million from the state government, 100 per cent would go into that [Dungog maintenance],” Cr Bruce MacKenzie said.
“You wouldn’t spend $15 million in the first year either and there would be those worst areas to be taken care of first.”
Cr MacKenzie said greater inefficiencies would also help cover the difference.
“There are definite savings to be made in terms of staff,” he said.
“Sure, you would need to have a works depot at Dungog and have a place for people to make inquiries – possibly even pay their rates – the rest would be based at Raymond Terrace and that offers savings.”
Prior to merger discussion, Dungog Shire Council said it would need to seek a special rate variation increase of 13 per cent for six years.
That’s something Port Stephens has avoided but Cr MacKenzie said that might change.
“Unlike other councils in the area we’ve endeavoured to prune our expenses and keep rate increases at less than CPI (consumer price index),” Cr MacKenzie said.
“Irrespective of amalgamation with Dungog there will be an increase in rates.
“But can I say rates are the smallest form of tax there is and people get a fair bit of value from their rates, especially compared to income tax.”
Cr MacKenzie remains confident the state government will honour its past funding pledge.
“If the state government is serious about making council’s stronger and more financially viable, it has to consider a merger for Dungog,” he said.
“It doesn’t work, to leave Dungog stand alone, it’s simply won’t, so if they’re fair dinkum about making local government stronger they’ll write a cheque.”
Premier Gladys Berejiklian dropped the state government’s raft of council mergers on February 14.
This included Port Stephens Council’s counter-proposal to merge with Dungog.
Cr MacKenzie, however, has maintained it should go ahead.
When put to Dungog Shire Council on May 1 it voted down the voluntary merger.
A rescission motion filed after the extraordinary meeting means Dungog councillors will reconsider the decision.