AFTER the long, drawn out fiasco that was the to and fro indecision of whether Port Stephens and Newcastle Councils would be forced to merge by the State Government, it is little wonder that many Port Stephens locals are feeling less than enthusiastic about the voluntary merger with Dungog that has now been put on the table.
One Dungog resident, Lisa Connors, who part of the pro-merger group at Dungog, feels that it is a lack of facts and information being shown to Port Stephens residents that is getting in the way of locals seeing the positives of this potential Country to Coast merger.
Lisa met with News Of The Area and shared her thoughts, saying, “There are so many roles and responsibilities that used to be Government functions, which now fall on the councils.”
“Small councils like Dungog struggle to keep up, yet would be able to make vital contributions to bigger councils like Port Stephens if they were to join as one.”
“Departments and positions that small councils can’t possibly keep afloat would be much better supported in larger councils where it makes sense for those departments to be in place for a larger body of people, with two councils of support working together,” she said.
A major criticism of the proposed merger has been how long a newly merged council, each entering with their own concerns and problems, would take to be a functioning team.
Reports suggest a seamless functioning merged council may take upwards of ten years, but Lisa Connors argues that those years of ‘ironing out’ would be worth it and that those opposing the merger are perhaps not armed with all the facts about the offer on the table.
Lisa said, “Dungog’s offer from Port Stephens is conditional, with no rate freeze, an immediate or rapid movement towards rate parity, and the government putting int at least 15 million to the merger.”
“The benefit to both councils is that we would become a long term sustainable council, and we would be making the choice for ourselves before it’s made for us down the track in another silly State Government-led plan.”
“Dungog was a tourism hotspot with dairy and timber industries, and we can be again, but we can’t do it alone when we’re this small,” she said.
With the flourishing tourism industry in Port Stephens, it is entirely possibly that we could make the lifestyles of ‘Beach and Country’ work well together.
The Gold Coast and Hinterlands have developed a wonderful tourism relationship for those wanting getaways from the coast, so the same could be said for Port Stephens and Dungog tourism working together to offer the ‘best of all worlds’ to tourists to travel between Port Stephens and the Barringtons for different experiences.
Port Stephens and Dungog could be the Surf and Turf of New South Wales.
By Rachael VAUGHAN