Copa community group calls for Operational Plan to be re-exhibited

Wyong Council Chambers

Copacabana Community Association has called for Council’s operational plan to be placed on public exhibition a second time – now that the 15 per cent rate hike has been approved by IPART and councillor elections have been postponed.

The Association put in a submission to Council on the draft operational plan which is expected to come to the Council meeting on June 29 with Council’s reaction to the community’s input.

The operational plan explains Council’s budget and operations for the 2021-2022 financial year which starts on July 1.

The association says various financial scenarios described in the current Draft Operational Plan no longer apply.

“Now that there is certainty regarding these major issues, the draft plan should be amended to reflect actual forecasts, budgets and projected income figures,” Association President, Sue Steedman, said.

“This (more accurate) draft plan should then be re-exhibited for consultation.

“This would provide some certainty for ratepayers and residents and is recommended in the interests of transparency and to rebuild trust with the community.”

The association also called for more community education on the negative implications from decisions and financial imposts on Council by the State Government.

Council’s operational plan said that cost shifting continued to place a significant burden on Council’s financial situation, to the tune of about $45M per annum.

“Despite the recognition of cost shifting and its adverse impacts on NSW Local Government there has been no change in funding for these costs,” Council said.

“Examples of cost shifting include contributions to the NSW Fire and Rescue, NSW Rural Fire Services and NSW State Emergency Service, lack of adequate funding for public libraries and the failure to fully reimburse councils for mandatory pensioner rebates.”

The association said it believed that the recurrent effect of this “cost shifting” policy had the potential to contribute to future Council financial shortfalls.

“Council may then feel justified in imposing additional/higher rates for a longer period; reducing or cutting services and/or announcing further sell-offs of community assets,” Steedman said.

“Without elected councillors to represent them, residents and ratepayers feel that they have few avenues to object to decisions that will adversely affect them financially and/or result in a loss of amenity.

“Trust in Council is already lacking and again we recommend transparency and consultation with the community as the only way forward.”

The association said the community would not tolerate any “watering down” of Local Character Statements in the former Gosford LGA in order to suit a development agenda.

It noted the draft plan intended to Review Character Statements (Phase 1) by June 30, 2022.

“If ‘reviewing Character Statements’ is code for watering down or altering Character Statements without consultation, the community will strongly oppose any such action by Council,” Steedman said.

“During consultation processes on the Draft LEP and DCP, the community insisted that Local Character statements be retained (for the former Gosford LGA) for consideration whenever a DA was lodged with Council.

“It was the community’s belief – then and now – that Character Statements provide a viable defence against potential over-development (successful precedent for their use has been met and cited), particularly in small coastal suburbs such as Copacabana, which are already at capacity.”

Merilyn Vale