A voluntary merger between Port Stephens and Dungog won’t go ahead as once discussed but the neighbouring shire won’t be left to suffer alone.
The Port’s councillors were mostly pleased to distance Port Stephens from a merger with Dungog at Tuesday night’s council meeting but the consensus was there could still be some help.
Instead of a merger, councillors authorised the Port’s general manager Wayne Wallis to enter into discussions with Dungog to provide it with “at cost services” like IT support.
“It’s still beholden on us to be a good neighbour,” Cr John Nell said.
“It’s a good initiative and I support it.”
The meeting was webcast for the first time since 2012.
“I’m voting to support this motion and I hope that I’m representing the feeling of the community,” Cr Giacomo Arnott said.
“I am disappointed this merger has come up again but I’m pleased we’re dealing with it in this way.”
The matter was put to council after it received an official request from the Dungog mayor Tracy Norman in November, seeking the Port’s support.
Mr Wallis prepared a report for the consideration of councillors on Tuesday night which considered the request to outsource certain functions. Just what these will be depends on those discussion between Mr Wallis and Dungog.
Cr Jaimie Abbott also welcomed the move.
“I applaud the GM [Mr Wallis] for putting this forward and I look forward to seeing it happen,” she said.
Cr Tucker feared a strategic relationship would not go far enough given the state government’s recurrent appetite for mergers.
“If we just sit and Dungog continues to suffer, and the state government has to step in, it will be too late for us to say no,” he said.
“Hopefully with this help things will get better for them.”
Cr Le Mottee noted that the matter was in response to Dungog’s renewed appetite for a merger.
“There probably shouldn’t be a merger of this council and Dungog but by no stretch do I think the state government won’t reconsider a merger at some point,” he said.
“I don’t believe its dead and when it does resurface Some people might wonder why we didn’t take more steps. This is really a quasi meger.”
The former mayor Bruce MacKenzie had championed a merger with Dungog as Port Stephens fought the state government’s proposed Newcastle-Port Stephens merger. Under the former mayor Harold Johnston the shire rejected such advances.
The idea was reconsidered at the September election when the idea of a Port-Dungog merger was put to Dungog residents.
A slim majority of Dungog voters backed a merger at last year’s election, with 52.9 per cent voting Dungog should not stand alone.
More than three-quarters of voters cast ballots against a marriage with Maitland City Council, with 55.4 per cent supporting overtures to Port Stephens. This prompted the letter from Cr Norman only weeks later.
“In a lot of ways it might have been a good merger,” the deputy mayor Cr Chris Doohan said.
“But like Cr Le Mottee said in some ways this is a merger.”
Cr Doohan said the Port’s advances on Dungog had effectively stalled any Newcastle merger.
“The possibility of us merging with Dungog got us out of a merger with Newcastle.”
Port Stephens mayor Ryan Palmer said he was excited to forge some stronger ties with Dungog.
“Dungog won’t be the only one to benefit, there’s also opportunity to learn from Dungog Shire Council, it;s nto a one way street,” he said.
“This is the start of a new relationship.”