RECAP: Our councils’ biggest decisions for 2019
IT HAS been a controversial year for some Northern Rivers councils.
From the iconic Disco Dong to a proposed 17 per cent increase in rates, there were some big, and very controversial, decisions made by our councils this year.
Here are some of the biggest:
Byron Shire Council
One of the most talked about, and often ridiculed, issues of 2019 was Byron Bay’s unfortunate lighthouse sculpture.
The controversial 12-metre sculpture by Melbourne artist Corey Thomas was erected on the Bayshore Drive roundabout in December last year, and was meant to depict 6,000 metal birds flying around a silhouette of Cape Byron Lighthouse.
However instead locals and social media instead dubbed it with names such as the “disco dong” and “giant dildo”, and unfortunately for Mr Thomas, the name stuck.
A push to have the roundabout reopened before Christmas and unexpected traffic issues led to the artist being unable to complete his full vision for the sculpture.
The council had allocated an estimated $55,000 to the project including design, materials and construction.
Following months of meetings between council and the art committee, as well as nine months of public backlash, online debate, abuse of the artist and much ridicule, Byron Shire Council eventually voted to decommission and remove the sculpture at the council’s August ordinary meeting.
At the time of the meeting, it was estimated the cost to remove the sculpture would be within $11,000-$13,000, and to recoup costs councillors resolved to sell the sculpture’s undamaged birds for $20 per piece.
Lismore City Council
It was a bit of a tough year for Lismore City Council.
In late February, the council made the shocking announcement of a ‘shocking’ and unforeseeable’ black hole in its budget equating to a cash deficit of more than $6 million.
Lismore mayor Isaac Smith and new general manager Shelley Oldham made the announcement ahead of the council quarterly budget review statement being reported at the February meeting which reveals the cash deficit of $6.1 million.
While the council were able to rectify the situation, they have once again created controversy among ratepayers with the announcement they would be applying to IPART to increase rates with a special rate variation.
Following a community consultation in September, numerous meetings were held to decide on the matter, before councillors eventually came to the decision in November.
The council has applied for a staggered increase of the base rate by 7.5, 9.4, 3.9 and 3.2 per cent increases over four years, to fund the roads and infrastructure backlog.
IPART will make the final decision on whether to approve the increase in May, 2020.
Ballina Shire Council
It only took 19 minutes to overturn weeks of community dissent in April when Ballina Shire councillors unanimously voted to prematurely end a one-way traffic trial in Lennox Head.
The one-way trial commenced on March 11 after previous community consultation supported the trial of a one-way traffic arrangement.
The trial was established to give the community and the council a practical understanding of how a one-way traffic arrangement and how various parking options would operate.
However it soon became problematic after Lennox Head businesses started to suffer.
At the time Lennox Head Chamber of Commerce president Zain Peart addressed councillors, urging them to end the trial early.
He said it was street-front businesses reliant on foot traffic that were most seriously affected.
There had been more than 900 responses to the council’s online survey on the trial, most of them opposing a permanent one-way traffic flow.
The council said it will continue its consultation with the community to work towards achieving the “preferred detail design for the Lennox Head Village Renewal project”.
The council said it is “committed to enhancing the public amenity and deliver improved economic outcomes for the local community”.
Richmond Valley Council
After a relatively short, but passionate fight from community members, Richmond Valley Council faced outrage after announcing its plans to relocate Evans Head’s historic Living Museum.
In March the council was in consultation with Crown Lands and Reflections Holiday Park’s trust executive officers discussing plans to relocate the museum to the Reflections’ Central Precinct in order to make way for the $6.3 million HealthOne facility.
When the proposed site for the museum was announced, many residents were unhappy about the demolition of the former shade shed and removal of the children’s play park, to make room for the two buildings.
In an extraordinary council meeting in late March, councillors voted to continue with plans to relocate the museum and visitor’s information centre.
The HealthOne centre is expected to open in 2020.
Richmond Valley residents will also be facing rate increases of 23.9 per cent over the next four years after the council applied for their own special rate variation in May.
This includes a 5.5 per cent rise from July 1, followed by further 5.5 per cent per year increases in each of the next three years.
Kyogle Council’s 2019/2020 budget was one of their biggest, with mayor Danielle Mulholland describing the council’s $53 million budget as an “investment in the future of Kyogle”.
“We have exceeded expectations in securing grant funding and continue to deliver on our most ambitious capital works program ever,” Cr Mulholland said at the time.
She said the next four years will see “further investment in our villages, roads, bridges, preschools, parks, gardens, pools, library services and community”.
According to the council, the majority of the budget would go towards improving roads and connectivity within the shire.
She said with state and federal grant funding assistance more than $37 million will be invested in roads and bridges over the next four years.
Highlights of the budget included $140,000 in 2022/2023 to change to LED for highway lighting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and operating costs, $496,000 for swimming pools, $421,000 for library services and $622,000 for parks and gardens.
“Regardless of how ambitious our current works program is, we will continue to lobby for further funding so we can deliver beyond expectations, particularly priority projects like the Tabulam agribusiness precinct and the Clarence Way,” she said.