AN extraordinary meeting of Greater Taree City Council will be held this afternoon to enable councillors and council staff to determine how to respond to the report of Lyne MP David Gillespie in relation his survey of more than 20,000 households.
Mayor Paul Hogan said the "report from the federal member contains statements that misrepresent the facts and are simply incorrect."
"We welcome any feedback from the community, however the way in which the federal member has undertaken this survey appears biased and politically motivated," Cr Hogan said.
Council and Dr Gillespie are embroiled in an increasingly complex fight about stage two funding of the $11.4 million Greater Taree Roads and Bridges Package. Council contends the Coalition government has withdrawn allocated, budgeted funding and Dr Gillespie contends it was an "unfunded Labor Party promise."
At the end of January, Dr Gillespie launched a campaign to survey residents of the Greater Taree area about council's management of its roads program. The campaign involved a series of half-page advertisements in local media publications and a direct-mail letter and survey.
The survey became the focus of widespread public debate as many residents voiced concerns about the intent and objective of the survey questions via letters to the editor and social media. Remarkably, the survey prompted the Manning Uniting Church congregation of more than 60 members to direct its church council to write to Dr Gillespie to express its concern that "your words and actions seem designed to provoke conflict with GTCC and to seek to drive a wedge between the city council and its constituents."
Last week Dr Gillespie released a report of his analysis of the survey results to council and the community. He advised that 2362 surveys were returned to his electorate office and that it would be forwarded to the NSW minister for local government and minister for the north coast, Don Page.
Dr Gillespie said the "response from the Manning Valley community had been phenomenal" and added that his office had also received "hundreds of phone calls".
"Many people have provided other information and correspondence in addition to the survey. It's been a very big job collating all of this information. I'm still receiving responses into the office even today - and I will of course collate them and forward them on," Dr Gillespie said.
"The community want council to start listening. The community want council to start acknowledging the problems and look at better and more efficient ways of delivering infrastructure and services. The community also want council to understand their priorities."
Dr Gillespie said more than 140 roads were suggested as needing improvement and said the top 15 projects included: Bucketts Way (341 respondents), all roads in GTCC's area (313 respondents), Manning Point Road (210 respondents), Old Bar Road (198 respondents), Wingham Road (99 respondents), Dyers Crossing Bridge (93 respondents), The Lakes Way (89 respondents), Muldoon Street-Wingham Road intersection (86 respondents), Pulteney Street (74 respondents), Gloucester Road (72 respondents), Wallanbah Road (70 respondents), Black Head Road (61 respondents), Lansdowne Road (57 respondents), Diamond Beach Road (57 respondents) and 50 respondents indicated local bridges needed attention.
Four questions were presented to the community in the survey with respondents provided with the option of a 'yes' or 'no' response, with the exception of question four. The controversial questions were:
1. Are you satisfied with how Greater Taree City Council spends your rates and federal and State taxpayers funds?
2. Do you think Greater Taree City Council is doing a good job in managing the local road network?
3. Do you think Greater Taree City Council would benefit from obtaining external advice from independent experts on how to get greater efficiencies in its roads program?
4. If there was one local road project you believe Greater Taree City Council should be spending some of its current federal road funding it receives on, what would it be?
According to Dr Gillespie, 83 per cent of respondents indicated they were not satisfied with the way council spends their rates and federal and State funds. He further stated that only 10 per cent said council was doing a good job managing the local road network and that 79 per cent said council would benefit from external advice from independent experts.
Dr Gillespie said the community had made it overwhelmingly clear that their number one local priority was to see improvements to local roads and bridges.
Times readers have their say: Manning River Times Page 8