THE question for Dungog ratepayers after Tuesday’s decision to avoid pursuing a merger with Port Stephens at least before the September election is: what happens now?
Well, depends who you ask.
Nancy Knudsen and the other councillors who stuck with their original May 1 motion to avoid the merger expect the council to now begin working on the alternate decision they reached that night.
That is, for the general manager and mayor to begin negotiations with Maitland, Port Stephens, the NSW government and the Boundaries Commission.
There’s doubt about whether those options are viable, though. The role of the Boundaries Commission, for example, is to report matters referred to it by the Local Government Minister – and Dungog’s general manager Craig Deasey told the Newcastle Herald on Wednesday that he wasn’t yet sure whether it would be possible to execute the motion.
There’s also hope of other financial aid.
The freeze on indexation on financial assistance grants has been lifted, and Port Stephens MP Kate Washington has suggested Hunter Councils are thinking of ways to help Dungog alleviate its $40 million infrastructure backlog.
But it’s not clear how much more money will flow into the council’s coffers as a result of the financial grants, and even Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent – the head of Hunter Councils – isn’t convinced their plan would be enough.
“I don’t know whether they [Dungog] are saveable if both the general manager and mayor are saying there’s very little that can be done,” he said.
Here’s the reality though: whether Dungog amalgamates or not, its rates are going up.
Using the mean land value in Dungog of $125,000 as a measure, an analysis of 2016/17 residential rates show a huge discrepancy between Dungog, Maitland and Port Stephens.
In Dungog village a ratepayer coughs up $581, compared to $994 for non-urban residential areas in Maitland and $785 in Port Stephens.