Four more questions for the council election candidates

IN the lead-up to this month’s local government elections, New Norfolk and Derwent Valley News put 15 questions to all 18 candidates seeking election to the Derwent Valley Council. The questions cover a broad range of topics based on questions and comments received from readers. Candidates were also invited to submit a general statement at the end of the questions.

The editor acknowledges that answering the questions took time, and the effort of those who have participated is greatly appreciated. The first six questions, and the answers received, were published yesterday, introducing to the candidates. The next four questions appear below and the final five questions will follow tomorrow. The responses are published without alteration other than minor editing.

Readers’ comments are welcome. Please note that under the electoral regulations your first name, surname, and town of residence must be included for publication with your question, statement or comment. Candidates: If I have made any errors in compiling these answers, please let me know. Damian Bester, Editor

7. How would you resolve the problem of the sudden and disproportionate rate rise in the town of Maydena?

PHILLIP BIGG: Rate increases have affected a vast majority of people but I recognise that the decisions to increase rates are not made lightly. There are a number of factors contributing to the need for rate rises. In the case of Maydena I believe the real cause of such an increase was majorly the land value adjustment factor and of course things like the state waste levy of which we all suffered.

PHILLIP BINGLEY: By the introduction of a “Managed Rating Strategy”. This will “cap” rate rises to minimise the potential of bill shock as annual assessed values (AAV) for residential properties rise. I don’t want assessed annual values (AAV) increases to result in residents rates skyrocketing , as happened this year at Maydena where rates jumped by as much as 48%.

PETER BINNY: Resolve to grant rate remissions for all owner-occupiers and all landlords of long-term renters to contain rates at 10.65% rise. Introduce a rate cap of say 10% to prevent it happening again. There is a new valuation due in 2024 which may increase some rates by more than 10%.

LUKE BROWNING: Response not yet received.

DEB CARNES: I am not prepared to make any promises about this issue as I have no intention of misleading the community about what can potentially be done. Making any decision requires some detailed thought and examination. Derwent Valley rates are set using assessed annual value (AAV). This is set independently of council. For any adjustment to be fair it would need to be applied across the whole council area which has an impact on the budget.

I’m a bit disappointed the accessibility about how rates are charged by council. There is limited detail on the council website. By comparison, the Northern Midlands Council (a council of similar population base) has a table of the rates scale they apply, and I think that should be the case here as well. There are also data available from the Premier and Cabinet website that shows in 2019 Derwent Valley Council rates were around the middle of the fee
scale but our costs were a lot higher. So what underlies this additional spending? Devoting some time to answer this question is something I am happy to commit to.

HEATHER CHAPLIN: I would inform other councillors and the mayor about the Maydena demographic with a view to changing their perspective before voting. I would vote for an incremental increase that is fair, not 48%. I would sit down with Maydena residents to let them know why some increase had to happen.

JESSICA COSGROVE: As the 22/23 budget was a decision of council, and the recently calculated Annual Assessed Value being a contributing factor in the rate rise, no candidate would be able to resolve for the current financial year. However, I am empathetic to those residents who have experienced such a huge increase and can only communicate that the council do have hardship policies in place (including payment plans) for those who are struggling to pay their rates.

JUSTIN DERKSEN: I would consider carefully the circumstances that led to such an increase and seek to review the decision.

MICHELLE DRACOULIS: The variations in impact of the Derwent Valley rate rise are due to the recently calculated AAV (Annual Assessed Value) which council has no involvement with. If ratepayers are concerned about the impact that the increased value of their property has had on rates they can contact the Valuer-General to have the process explained. There are a number of options open to residents who are unable to pay their rates in the time indicated and I encourage those affected to contact the council to create a payment plan. There is also a State Government initiative by which ratepayers who hold a current pension card can have up to a 30% reduction on their council rates https://www.concessions.tas.gov.au/concessions/housing/rates_remission

JAMES GRAHAM: Personally, I’m not sure, I was really caught out on not knowing about this issue. Any informed advice on this issue will help to contribute to a list of options. Just recently at the Local Government Association general meeting there was a discussion about B&B properties and rates but not so much about residential.

MATT HILL: It is very unfortunate that this problem has occurred following the adoption of the council budget and rating estimates. In the short-term, I would encourage any resident in the Maydena area to contact council regarding a payment plan if required. And any Maydena business / service provider to contact council (the General Manager) and apply for rate remission.

SARA LOWE: Response not yet received.

BRETT MARYNIAK: I acknowledge the rise is in line with independent processes through the Valuer-General, but I can appreciate the impact this unanticipated rise has had on the people in Maydena. I have no doubt it was a surprise and given the current cost of living, would have a significant impact on the lives of our Maydena residents. The increase highlights the need to carefully consider the impact of development in our region. I welcome community improvements and attracting visitors is important to our economy, but it is a matter of having to weigh up the costs and benefits. We cannot invite development that results in our residents being priced out of their communities.

On the rate rises across the rest of the community I have two thoughts. The first is that council needs to pay for its operations. Whether it is resurfacing roads or printing information, all activities come with costs and these costs are going up. As such, council needs to generate more income. Council also employs people within our community, and they all deserve to be paid fairly for the work they do. However, if council is raising funds and increasing rates to cover inefficiencies or financial mismanagement then that is unacceptable and must be investigated.

EVE NELSON: There needs to be a thorough review of services being provided to the area and an assessment of cost vs benefit. We need to assess what can be economically outsourced and what we have capacity to do with current resources.

WAYNE SHOOBRIDGE: Recall those rate notices and issue new rate notices using the differential rating system
that could have been used by the council if they wanted.

LIZ VIRTUE: I’d encourage the council to clearly communicate with those affected about how the rate rise occurred; including what was in the council’s control and what wasn’t. I’d urge the council to inform them of council’s hardship assistance policy and actively support any experiencing hardship with accessing that assistance.

BRODY WIGGINS: This is a tricky one for me as I don’t believe they have increased as suddenly as I have been told. I believe the only way this can change is by either putting a stop to the house prices going up or having a fixed rate like some other municipalities.

NATASHA WOODS: Response not yet received.

8. Is there a need to improve communications between the council and residents?

PHILLIP BIGG: I absolutely believe improvement could be made to the communication between council and residents. Not only communicating to residents the decisions that have been made, but listening to community and actively asking their thoughts, concerns and ideas to our council before those decisions are made.

PHILLIP BINGLEY: Yes, Even though council has a social media site there are still residents who are not familiar with this form of communication. There still needs to be the personal contact by phone or in person for any queries they may have.

PETER BINNY: Yes Yes Yes! This council has been too secretive, failed to answer legitimate questions, obfuscated on others and residents are left wondering why certain decisions have been made without proper explanation, debate or sound reason.

LUKE BROWNING: Response not yet received.

DEB CARNES: Communication can always be improved and needs to be constantly monitored. There have been some recent positive changes with electronic submission of issues but these approaches rely on a level of digital literacy that not everyone has. However, community members also have a responsibility to be respectful and social media harassment/trolling is not acceptable. Communication is a two-way street and if Councillors and staff are not respected on social media platforms then it is understandable that there may be some hesitancy around communicating through those forums.

HEATHER CHAPLIN: I believe there is a need to improve communications between council and residents. Feedback from doorknocking is that communication channels are stalled. The “Latest News’ on the website is great but if elected, I will attend four-monthly community meetings in outlying towns to hear valid concerns and engage in problem-solving activities.

JESSICA COSGROVE: Yes. Amidst recent events within the Derwent Valley, I believe stability and greater community consultation is needed. I believe I can offer that due to my leadership style, I display a more “servant” leadership style rather than the usual authoritarian leader, as the role of elected members is to work for the people of our community, and no-one should be forgotten. By prioritising communication with the community and establishing positive relationships with a multitude of people such as residents, ratepayers, local businesses, visitors, tourism operators, State and Federal Government representatives as well. The development of the council’s recent Community Engagement Framework should help with this.

JUSTIN DERKSEN: From my dealings with the Derwent Valley Council information is for the most part is readily available however I would place more emphasis on the elected representatives to communicate in a more meaningful and proactive way on the municipality’s behalf.

MICHELLE DRACOULIS: Communication can always be improved and is constantly evolving inline with technological trends and advances.

JAMES GRAHAM: Can communication be better? Who would push back on that? I’m a firm believer in that those paying attention get it BUT local government is about empowering two way conversations with and about information. I’m always disappointed by the response the council gets at times when ratepayers have a chance to communicate.

MATT HILL: I believe that there is a strong need for Council to improve its communication with the community. I believe that any communication from the community received by Council should be acknowledged. I believe that all communication from council whilst informative should be received in a timely manner and respectful.

SARA LOWE: Response not yet received.

BRETT MARYNIAK: At the moment it does feel like the council communicates with residents in a passive way; information is broadcast out rather than the council providing genuine opportunities for engagement. Although both the website and council’s Facebook page are regularly updated it relies on residents having access to the internet and digital literacy skills. As a communications professional, I understand the need for strong communications processes and the benefits it creates, particularly for transparency and public trust.

The council needs to balance online and offline communications to effectively support the community. It also means council must facilitate hearing the voices of its residents’, in the form of the advisory committee structure, in person community forums beyond council meetings, or something else entirely. The council should do whatever it can to foster connections with our community and ensure everyone is able to contribute, not just those who raise their voice the most or the loudest.

EVE NELSON: Clearly there are many residents who feel they are not being heard by council and so we need to look at how as a community we can feed information between council and the residents and be united in our solutions for the Derwent Valley.

WAYNE SHOOBRIDGE: Absolutely.

LIZ VIRTUE: Without a doubt, yes.

BRODY WIGGINS: Yes there is 100% a need to improve communications between the council and residents.

NATASHA WOODS: Response not yet received.

9. What can the council do to better connect with Derwent Valley communities outside New Norfolk?

PHILLIP BIGG: I think this is something that really needs to be addressed and I think a first step is getting out there and organising to meet at a local hall or even the pub to hear what’s happening and need to happens.

PHILLIP BINGLEY: Regular community forums.

PETER BINNY: Introduce electoral districts for urban and rural areas to ensure representation from less populated areas. Distribute information through local press articles and finally have the communications manager communicate outside the office.

LUKE BROWNING: Response not yet received.

DEB CARNES: A structured approach is needed. What is the current situation? What are the priorities of these communities and how does council know this? What clear plan can be developed to improve connections? How would this be implemented? Most importantly – how would we evaluate that the plan has been implemented and that it’s working?

HEATHER CHAPLIN: Hold regular community meetings with outlying town residents to hear their concerns and engage in problem-solving activities.

JESSICA COSGROVE: It’s important to communicate and represent all communities within the Derwent Valley, not just New Norfolk. I feel moving forward, council could offer an increased number of community forums in the greater Derwent Valley area to enable those living there to have more of a say. I personally have attended most community forums the council have hosted and chaired a number of those meetings, such as Maydena, Westerway, Granton, Molesworth and Lachlan. I also believe developing good relationships with our neighbouring municipalities and other southern councils is important. Personally, in my professional role as a Family and Community Development officer based in the Central Highlands, I bring knowledge and collaboration with external stakeholders into council.

JUSTIN DERKSEN: I think that more regular “listening posts” with varying councillors around the municipality would be of benefit for the whole community.

MICHELLE DRACOULIS: Council addresses community concerns beyond New Norfolk via regional meetings that are advertised and held with elected members and staff in attendance. There are also councillors who have a connection with communities who relay information as given to them during their outreach. It is my dearest hope that moving forward we see a number of council members elected directly from these areas.

JAMES GRAHAM: Continue to outreach via community forms, Zoom council meetings to community halls and broadcast council meetings, encourage representation from other communities to engage in the advisory project. Here’s a thing: a community adopts a councillor for regular brunch/informal meetings.

MATT HILL: The Derwent Valley Local Government Area is not just New Norfolk and I recognise this. I believe that council can better connect with communities outside of New Norfolk by holding council meetings in these areas again and the continuation (and increasing) of community forums in these areas. I also believe that councillors should attend key community organisations in these areas such as the Maydena Community Association and the Westerway and Upper Derwent Valley Bush Watch.

SARA LOWE: Response not yet received.

BRETT MARYNIAK: If people living outside of New Norfolk do not feel connected with council, then it is important to understand how these members of our community think this could best be achieved. I strongly believe there needs to be a variety of ways for people and council to engage with one another. I have real experience working with Tasmania’s smaller communities, including those in the Derwent Valley, on a range of issues and understand the benefit of a face-to-face approach. I would support the expansion and continuation of the Regional Community Forums.

EVE NELSON: Council members need to make themselves available to respond to locals through attendance at local events and making themselves readily accessible where possible. Collaboration with the whole of the Derwent Valley and outlying communities as well as other councils to model best practice innovations.

WAYNE SHOOBRIDGE: Re-introduce regional council meetings as it was in the past. They were mostly successful.

LIZ VIRTUE: Hold meetings and events in outer areas. Offer to meet with residents in their communities when contentious community issues arise.

BRODY WIGGINS: I believe there should be a councillor dedicated for each area for the Derwent Valley that are to liaise on a fortnightly/monthly basis.

NATASHA WOODS: Response not yet received.

10. What is your opinion of the introduction of Advisory Committees for the council?

PHILLIP BIGG: I appreciate the fundamental idea of the introduction of advisory bodies, however, I think this can be improved upon to ensure we achieve outcomes and not just talk.

PHILLIP BINGLEY: A waste of ratepayers money. Council should have never disestablished its Special Volunteer Sub-Committees..

PETER BINNY: Complete and utter waste of funds. time and effort when it is what the councillors should be doing in representing the community. Also a slap in the face for volunteers, some of whom have given up to 30 years service to the community. Will need to be reviewed before the next budget.

LUKE BROWNING: Response not yet received.

DEB CARNES: You don’t know whether something will work until you try it so I’m willing to have an open mind. It’s easy to be negative but you aren’t going to get any change from that approach so if you want change, at least be prepared to give it a go.

HEATHER CHAPLIN: As long as Advisory Committees members are knowledgeable in that field, and collaborative, I think they will make a valuable contribution.

JESSICA COSGROVE: As I am a sitting member of the current council (and not the spokesperson) and the fact that this a decision of council, I cannot comment.

JUSTIN DERKSEN: Whilst considering this proposal I think the idea has merit and may enable concerned and experienced community members to take a more active part in the direction and decisions of council.

MICHELLE DRACOULIS: I am supportive of the Advisory Bodies of council and look forward to seeing this new mechanism of engagement in action.

JAMES GRAHAM: I was confused at the start, coming into the process. I started asking questions of which some answers are in this month’s agenda. I took the opportunity to suspend standing orders at the August council meeting to tease out more clarification of the project and then voted YES.

MATT HILL: Prior to the introduction of the Advisory Committees, the disestablishment of council’s Special Committees was a very distressing and unfortunate decision by council (a decision prior to my time as a councillor). I do not support the Advisory Committees in their current form. I have publicly expressed concerns regarding the allowance paid to the individuals selected for the committees, and the actual selection process. And I continue to express that there is also no youth representation for any of the advisory committees.

SARA LOWE: Response not yet received.

BRETT MARYNIAK: I am not opposed to this structure, and I do support council providing participants with a nominal fee. However, having looked at applying to participate in a committee, I found the application process extensive. It is also critical that this system doesn’t replace wider consultation and other forms of participation. The Derwent Valley is full of passionate volunteers who have valuable insight and knowledge, and it is important that they still feel empowered to contribute, despite existing outside of the Advisory Committees.

EVE NELSON: The advisory boards are a great way to get valuable input from the community on specific areas. It is important that these committees include people who can provide educated and intelligent input where needed and have a collective voice to council so as informed decisions can be made unified.

WAYNE SHOOBRIDGE: To be honest a waste of time and money. Council can’t afford it.

LIZ VIRTUE: I’ll be interested to see how they go and I’d expect appointments to be for a limited period and subject to performance review.

BRODY WIGGINS: I don’t really have an opinion on the introduction as yet. If it will help though I am all for it.

NATASHA WOODS: Response not yet received.

CORRECTIONS: This article has been updated to restore part of the answer provided by Matt Hill to Question 10, which was inadvertently omitted.

DISCLOSURE: Wayne Shoobridge is a contractor for New Norfolk and Derwent Valley News but played no part in this Q&A other than as a participating candidate..

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