Central Coast Council is the region’s most important institution, without it the area would not function, but make no mistake it is under huge pressure to deliver what residents expect.
Our roads, sewage, water supply, beaches, waterfronts, bushland, parks and gardens are all under Council’s direct management. Approximately 2,000 people work for our Central Coast Council and many more contractors, most of them local, are engaged to deliver the the services we expect from a local government authority.
Looking after the area is clearly a massive task. The Coast has thousands of kilometres of beaches and waterfront along with roads, water and sewerage pipes and hundreds of reserves and parks. The region is nearly as large and more diverse than the ACT, almost as populous as the NT and Tasmania, and growing rapidly.
The Council’s reputation and capacity to deliver have been diminishing since its amalgamated inception in 2016. In under six years we’ve had three state government appointed Administrators all of whom have attempted to forge a functional local government organisation, with varying degrees of success, depending who you talk to.
The amalgamated structure of 15 elected Councillors from five wards, who then elected a mayor for two year stints, proved to be a weak model of regional leadership and oversight. The model also created an unstable political situation, characterised by a combative and often unproductive culture in the Council chamber.
We are now in the middle of a NSW Government Inquiry of the Council. We hope to find some intelligent analysis of what went wrong, though more importantly we need commitment to finding a way of making local government work on the Central Coast. Some call for a return to the old councils, though we should remember those two councils were far from perfect and passed on enormous economic and management deficits to the Central Coast Council.
Others seem happy to allow an indefinite period of administration, without genuine oversight and input from residents. That option, while attractive to some senior managers, is simply not sustainable.
NSW and Australia have long traditions of democratic local councils. By and large local councils across the nation have delivered what other layers of government and departments can not but good councils need to be stable, responsible and offer democratic leadership and oversight.
An unstable and weak Council is a serious problem for all residents of the Central Coast – more serious than most are willing to contemplate. Weakness and instability has resulted in property and water rate rises. Weakness has resulted in the deteriorating state of our local roads, water services and public land management.
Perhaps its appropriate for Coasties to ask the state’s new Local Government Minister Wendy Tuckerman to put a special focus on the difficult situation our council finds itself in.
She should first consider helping fund our council in a way that does not rely so heavily on rate payers and commercial loans. Our NSW MPs should also come together and find a future orientated solution to more reliably fund the NSW Government’s expansion plans for the region.
Our Federal Government and opposition could consider allocating a portion of the GST or income tax to our council like councils in other countries do.
One thing seems certain, a serious and genuine attempt must be made to carve out a new economic and political model for the region.
It is not viable to rule the region without stable leadership, reasonable input and responsible representation from the people who live here.