Mayor Robert Mustow opened the meeting by welcoming returning councillors and the new ones – Patrick Deegan and Debra McGillan — to the council.
At the beginning of each meeting, the ‘public’ can address the council on an issue that is important to them. They have four minutes to speak. A bell rings when they have a minute left.
Debra Johnson spoke about the Bungawalbin Valley and the 70-person campground that has been approved by the council.
Ms Johnson said previous flood studies in Bungawalbin were not accurate.
After the 2019 bushfires, what remains of Bungawalbin Valley must be protected, she said.
Mayor Mustow said: Thank you and have a safe trip home. He said this to every speaker, which was a friendly touch as these meetings can be quite formal.
Next was Richard Gates from Evans Head.
He is a regular speaker at council meetings. Dr Gates spoke about Ipart and the rate peg (more to come on that) and he said the State Government was cost shifting to local government. In his four minutes he spoke about Bungawalbin too and about the council employing an ecologist.
Next up was Rosemary Joseph from the Beyond Bentley – Our Sustainable Future group which has 40 members.
“Our group applauds the council for the Casino to Bentley rail trail,” Ms Joseph said.
She spoke about the tourism benefit for what she called the Bentley hub. Her concern was the expansion of the Bentley Quarry.
General manager Vaughan Macdonald said the decision on the quarry would be made by the Northern Regional Planning Panel.
Mayor Mustow made mention of Councillor Robert Hayes’s footwear.
He has a sore foot and can’t wear enclosed shoes, he said.
Mr Hayes wiggled his toes in thongs. It was a light-hearted moment in a meeting that went for over two hours.
Why is Ipart such an issue?
Ipart stands for the Independent Pricing And Regulatory Tribunal. Ipart sets how much council can increase rates. They recently set the peg at 0.7% which is very low.
Mayor Mustow said this move meant metropolitan councils would receive more money because of their population.
“This is a hot topic,” he said.
“It is stretching our resources and funds.
“When that happens, our community suffers.”
He said it was a slap in the face for regional councils.
Roads, roads, roads
Yes, ratepayers care about roads. Mayor Mustow said it was the most raised issue in a survey before the council elections.
Council maintains 1174km of roads at a cost of $19 million a year
“We spend 28% of our budget on roads,” he said.
GM Macdonald told a story about a meeting he had with Lagoon Rd (near Coraki) residents.
The first 4km of Lagoon Rd is bitumen. It is maintained by the council. The next 4km is gravel and is Crown land. Crown Lands do not maintain the road, he said.
“We have 88km of Crown roads in the valley.”
At least $350,000 is needed to fix that 4km gravel stretch of Lagoon Rd.
“It is not our responsibility, but they are our residents,” GM Macdonald said.
“We had a really good conversation. We’ll be doing more of that.”
The quarterly budget was explained in detail. The most important part to look at is the last two columns. Go here and check it out for yourself.
There was a discussion about DAs and the rail trail and more talk on roads (it really is the most popular topic).
An ecologist would be nice
Angela Jones is council’s director for infrastructure and environment and she spoke about a grant RVC has applied for that would employ an ecologist for two days a week for three years.
It’s part of a three-year program on the Richmond River. The program includes developing a plant identification book, repairing the zones near the river and setting up a plant nursery.
“It’s all about river health,” Ms Jones said.
All this depends on council getting the grant.
It would be bloody fantastic if they did.
Woodburn-Coraki Rd update
Here is a summary of progress on roadworks.
Total length of the road – 46km
Average daily traffic – 2147 vehicles
Heavy vehicle use – 23.5%
Woodburn to Coraki section – 15.7km
Work completed so far – 6.7km
Total grants for this section – $11.4 million
Remaining funds – $7.4 million
Casino to Coraki section – 28.6km
Work completed so far – 2.6km
Estimated cost to upgrade this section – $32 million (including bridge replacements).
Everyone was then asked to leave while specifics on tenders and financial hardship were discussed in confidence.