This week Council Administrator Rik Hart and CEO David Farmer attended the NSW Local Government Conference in Parramatta.
Here they mixed with mayors and councillors from across the state in deciding motions that will affect the local government sector in NSW.
The irony is that the Central Coast has no elected representatives, but rather a State Government-appointed administration which has been in place for more than three years and will continue until September next year.
The justifications made for sacking all councillors and denying the community any new representatives were compelling at the time.
The sacked councillors had failed to see that Council’s finances were in a parlous state.
Yet to be fair the NSW audit office and a highly qualified internal risk and audit committee had also failed to see the signs.
All the same, Minister Wendy Tuckerman sacked the elected representatives and locals were denied any future say in the direction of the Council.
Simply put, we couldn’t be trusted to handle the difficult situation that was created by the amalgamation of Gosford and Wyong councils years before.
Our amalgamation should have delivered savings and increases in service levels, though we now know the exercise was woefully underfunded and hugely complex, as are most mergers in the corporate world.
This erosion of local democracy has been marked by a trifecta of challenges: no local representation, skyrocketing rates and charges and a decline in local services.
The most palpable manifestation of this decline is the relentless increase in rates and charges, burdening households and businesses alike.
Local government, once considered to be the voice of the people, seems to have lost touch with the economic realities faced by constituents.
The imposition of higher rates without commensurate service improvements leaves taxpayers questioning the purpose of their hard-earned contributions.
Concurrently, the deterioration of essential services paints a grim picture of local governance on the Central Coast. Residents find themselves contending with potholed roads and longer waiting times for development applications.
The services that underpin the quality of life on the Central Coast are succumbing to the strains of administration and priorities that have no oversight from elected leaders.
Equally distressing has been the trend of selling off valued community assets, a shortsighted approach that sacrifices long-term sustainability for immediate financial gain.
This not only alienates residents from their own shared spaces but also raises questions about the fiduciary responsibility of those entrusted with safeguarding community assets.
Administrator Rik Hart has done what he has been tasked to do by the State Government professionally and responsibly with the limitations he has been given.
It is not his job to create State Government policy; that is the job of our elected state politicians.
The demise of local democracy on the Central Coast demands urgent attention and corrective action.
It necessitates a return to the principles of transparency, community engagement and responsible fiscal management.
As one of the largest council areas in the state, the Central Coast should be leading the NSW Local Government Conferences, not just observing them.
Now is the time to take back local democracy by encouraging level-headed, well-qualified locals to organise themselves to do a great service to the community and become good councillors for the region.
David Abrahams – Managing Editor