Money talks and last week MidCoast Council administrator John Turner shouted down community whispers of a Great Lakes bias with $9 million.
A $14 million NSW government sweetener was on the table to help ease community discomfort caused by the forced merger of Greater Taree, Great Lakes and Gloucester councils – big money for a cash-strapped council with a big backlog in road and bridge asset renewals. The money had to go to large scale priority infrastructure projects and the money had to deliver long term economic and social benefits.
Late last year MidCoast Council released $508,195 from the fund to 17 not-for-profit community groups. News quickly spread that $328,884 would go to groups in the former Great Lakes area, $135,311 to groups in the former Greater Taree area and just $44,000 to the Gloucester region.
The figures fuelled community fears that the Manning and Gloucester areas of MidCoast Council would be disadvantaged by the merger and the perception of a Great Lakes dominance in the new MidCoast Council.
Last week Mr Turner approved the $14 million spend from the fund for major projects. This time, Great Lakes did not come out on top – just $1 million would be spent on roads and bridges in its area, $4 million in Gloucester and $9 million in the Manning.
Mr Turner was one member of a panel that assessed the projects against defined criteria. The subsequent distribution of funds is a telling snapshot of which region requires substantial and consistent funding to rectify the roads and bridges backlog over time.
As a former State member of Parliament for the Myall Lakes electorate, Mr Turner recently rejected the suggestion that he had a bias towards the Great Lakes area, stating that he “did not just represent Myall Lakes by itself.”
“I represented Taree, Gloucester and Great Lakes during my career. My ambition is for this council is to get over the parochialism and make people believe in MidCoast Council as a whole - not as the old area here and the old area there.
“We are committed to MidCoast Council being seen as 10,000 square kilometres and we hope like blazers that our new council will represent corporately the whole of the area and not on a parochial basis.”