About 30 Landcare supervisors are the public face of Central Coast Council’s first moves to cut costs.
It has also been confirmed that, so far, one Council contract position has gone.
Landcare workers, who supervise volunteers for a handful of hours each month, receive less than $30 an hour for their work.
The founder of Australia’s first bushcare group, John Salmon, says, like all cost cutting, the environment is the first to suffer.
Salmon, also founder of the Bateau Bay Bush Care Group which started in 1984 and is still an environmental volunteer, said people should look at history.
All landcare and bushcare volunteers received news of the cuts in an email from Council’s Landcare team leader, Michael Smith, on Wednesday, October 14.
He said Council was responding to a budget deficit and needed to focus on cost reduction across a number of areas.
“This includes a review of our contingent and fixed term contract employees,” he said.
“Unfortunately, as an outcome of this process, we will lose one of our team members who was working on a term contract as of October 27, all of our group supervisors are finishing with us immediately, and our staff will be very limited in their ability to work on weekends when many of our volunteer groups work.
“We understand that the group supervisors are very well respected and have developed strong bonds and friendships with you, the volunteers, through your shared experiences working together.
“For those groups who will no longer have a supervisor, your Council Officer will be in touch soon to work through options and to support and encourage you to continue to volunteer without a supervisor.
“We are still reviewing our programs’ budget and expect that there will be additional impacts in other areas including the supply of tools and materials and our ability to engage bush regeneration contractors to carry out works to assist our volunteer groups on their sites.
“Our priority is to work on the best way that we can continue to support our volunteers and volunteer groups through this challenging time.
Wyong Ward Councillor, Louise Greenaway, said that she placed enormous value on the services that Landcare provided and she wanted to see it continue so that everyone could enjoy the benefits.
“We are all indebted to the supervisors and volunteers for the work they do in restoring and maintaining our natural environment, which is one of the Coast’s greatest assets.
“Landcare activities are also great for connecting community members to each other and have demonstrated benefits for wellbeing,” she said.
Another Wyong Ward Councillor, Kyle MacGregor, said it was ludicrous.
“You don’t dig yourself out of a hole by going after the little guy,” he said.
“Savings measures and reductions should not be targeted at the elderly or those on a measly $90 a month.
“Landcare and Dunecare work ends up with long term savings for Council and this is not the kind of measure that I would support if I was even consulted about it before it happened.
“The community would be disappointed to know that this decision was made before councillors were even made aware of it, and are now surely anxious about further decisions that will be taken without our, or their, consent,” Cr MacGregor said.
In May, Council decided to rebrand the Landcare program and expand it as the Environmental Volunteer Program.
At that time, Mayor Lisa Matthews said that there was great support for the program to continue and expand, allowing more members of the community to take a hands-on role in conservation, protection and remediation of the local environment.
She said opportunities to grow Council’s popular environment focused volunteering programs would include new technologies including phone apps for managing the program, the recruitment of two additional full-time equivalent staff at a projected cost of $40,000 in capital, and $134,125 in operational expenditure per additional staff member to support additional volunteer groups.
There are 73 Landcare, Bushcare, Coastcare, Dunecare, Tidy Towns or Friends Of groups across the Central Coast, with 37 of those in the northern suburbs.
They conduct bush regeneration, weed control, planting, seed collection, propagation, erosion control, park maintenance, landscaping, litter reduction, fauna monitoring, education and training.
Merilyn Vale and Sue Murray