Mayor’s economic slingshot misfires

Councillors Frank Pearce, left, and Ben Shaw, right, were the
only two to appear on screen during the monthly meeting for
May. Picture: Derwent Valley Council.

A RAFT of proposals aimed at stimulating the local economy failed to win majority support at last month’s Derwent Valley Council meeting.

Mayor Ben Shaw’s five-point plan was tied 3-3 when put to the vote, with one councillor absent and one out of the room due to a declared pecuniary interest.

Councillor Shaw’s plan was presented as a notice of motion at the May 21 council meeting, which was held partially online and partially in person. Several councillors were in the council’s upstairs meeting room and the remainder dialled-in from home. Deputy mayor Jessica Cosgrove was absent.

At its April meeting the council approved a range of measures in its Covid-19 community support package. At the May meeting Cr Shaw proposed waiving certain council fees in order to stimulate the local economy by encouraging the building of homes; as well as bringing forward infrastructure projects; investigations into upgrading the visitor information centre; holding a launch party for the council’s branding project; and authorising the general manager to to develop a business case to attract an employer of 50 or more employees to the Derwent Valley in the next financial year.

READ THE MAYOR’S FULL PROPOSAL

“Essentially, if we start at number one, it’s about slingshotting the Derwent Valley economy and that’s through residential increases,” Cr Shaw said. He suggested waiving development application, building application and planning application fees in the next financial year, for all residential  applications, including subdivisions of no more than 10 lots, and all commercial/industrial applications with a value under $1 million. He estimated waiving the specified fees would cost about $200,000.

Cr Ben Shaw would like to see the
Derwent Valley Visitor Information Centre
upgraded to “yellow-i” status.

“The potential benefits of slingshotting building works in the Derwent Valley is shoring up our future income streams, and that’s our biggest issue here at Derwent Valley Council now, is our cashflow and our income stream,” Cr Shaw said. “Now I know people will say we’re already in a tight financial position this year and we are. So that’s why, actually why, I’m proposing to do it now whilst we’re in this situation, we probably wouldn’t normally think about it in any normal situation.”

Cr Shaw said he was not asking councillors to decide on a budget that night, he was only seeking in-principle support. “The other thing about it is, the the local side of it, is that people can do their garages and their sheds and their decks and their pools and whatever else they might have been thinking about doing, but put it off for financial reasons. If they get to do that and use local content, local builders and local shops to buy all their gear, it also stimulates the economy.”

Cr Julie Triffett commended the mayor for his proactiveness, but said it might be difficult to get infrastructure projects done, as all levels of government would be trying to stimulate the economy at the same time. She said the Visitor Information Centre co-ordinator was “on board” with the plan to seek a paid employee for the centre, possibly working with volunteers. “And of course I love a party so I’m right in for the branding [or] the coming out of Covid street party, whatever,” she said,

Cr Frank Pearce while speaking about
the mayor’s proposal to the last council
meeting. Picture: Derwent Valley Council.

Cr Frank Pearce said he was sympathetic to much of what was proposed, but he was not able to support the whole motion and felt it would be better to consider the items as part of the council budget rather than in advance of the budget. He said councillors should be careful about giving in-principle support to measures that the council might not be able to afford. “We have a very difficult Covid-19 recovery budget to finalise for consideration by council next month,” he said.

Cr Pearce said councillors were not authorised to release information about their budget discussions, but he feared that the council risked running out of cash during the next financial year if it did not very carefully manage its finances. “I even note the mayor as being reported in the media earlier this week on ABC confirming the risk of running out of cash,” he said. Cr Pearce said he tentatively supported upgrading the visitor centre to “yellow i” status but did not know the cost, and he wholeheartedly supported a launch for the council’s branding initiative.

Councillors Paul Belcher and Natasha Woods said the mayor’s motion had merit but the unknown costings were of concern. “Yes, it is a tricky time and we have to do something but I just think that this, for our little council with the budget that we have, I think it would put us in dire straits,” Cr Belcher said. Endorsing the remarks of councillors Pearce and Belcher, Cr Woods said she could not support the whole motion at this time.

Cr Martyn Evans was temporarily chairing the meeting while Cr Shaw’s motion was up for discussion. “I won’t speak from the chair Mr Mayor but I actually support the motion though. I like the intent of it and I like that it was well thought out. I like the responses from the elected members and the thoughts whats gone in around that and obviously risk and risk implications to council but also the benefit what could come from council through economic growth and development. So I will be supporting this. I support the motion Mr Mayor,” he said.

Cr Evans put the matter to the vote and declared it unsuccessful when three councillors voted in favour and three were opposed. In support were councillors Shaw, Triffett and Evans, while councillors Pearce, Belcher and Woods were against. Cr Luke Browning had declared a pecuniary interest and left the meeting. The Local Government Act determines that a tied vote is a lost vote because it did not win a majority.

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