During my eight years on Council I have sat on a variety of working parties and committees, but usually no more than 22 groups at any one time. I haven’t sat on all of our groups but I have tried to gain experience across a broad cross-section.
One of my many small objectives when I became Mayor was to attend, at least once, the other groups that I haven’t sat on in the past. I have made it to a number of these different meetings so far and I learn something new every time.
My general experience so far is that everyone in the community wants more. Very rarely am I asked to reduce rates. Mostly I am asked if Council can provide additional services or build additional infrastructure. This might be a seemingly simple request, such as mowing a certain patch of grass on a more regular basis, or it might be a much larger item, such as building a new bitumen road. Of course the problem, as always, is that additional items and additional infrastructure all cost money. I would love a tunnel under the Blue Mountains connecting a four-lane freeway from Dubbo through to Sydney, a Very Fast Train (VFT) to link Dubbo to Brisbane/Sydney/Melbourne, and water theme parks that would make the Gold Coast versions seem like water sprinklers. As I have discussed in this article before, the current government is very keen to see commercial rates of return applied to all infrastructure grants, so I don’t see buckets of money being handed out to local governments without the supporting business cases.
I attended my first meeting of the Rural Consultative Working Party (RCWP) recently and it was a passionate and community-focused group. This group has representatives from Ballimore, Wongarbon, Toongi, Rawsonville, Eumungerie, and Brocklehurst. The areas that we colloquially call the 'Villages of Dubbo' (and hence the people that live in them are affectionately known as ‘Village People’) although Toongi and Rawsonville are not officially villages but localities.
The total rate base collected from Dubbo’s villages in the 2011/2012 year was $172,841 or 0.78% of the total rates income for Dubbo City Council. One of the many challenges for Dubbo City Council is to provide appropriate services for all areas of Council with the limited income available. If we spent 10 per cent of our rates income on the villages, then the people of the urban area could quite rightly ask why they are subsidising the villages. If we spent only 0.5 per cent of our rates income on the villages, the village people could ask why they are subsidising the urban area of Dubbo.
Having said that, there are advantages for people who live in the villages of Dubbo. For example, the kerbside waste and recycling services are immediate benefits that the villages enjoy as an extension of the Dubbo urban area. Running water is available in Brocklehurst, Ballimore, and Wongarbon; it is treated at the John Gilbert plant in Macquarie Street and piped out to these villages. Again, there are advantages of economies of scale for the smaller areas around Dubbo taking advantage of the urban area being at the hub.
Ultimately it would be fair to say that the rates from the urban area subsidises – to a small extent – the money that Council spends on the villages. This was a conceptual decision of equity made by this Council many years ago – but one that I philosophically agree with.
One of the items that was very impressive from the RCWP meeting was the attitude of self-help. Many of the villages have a progress association and bring a combined voice to Council to express what they – as a collective – want to see occur in their village. The progress associations are also proactive in raising funds for items they want to see in their villages. For example, there have been tree planting days that have been organised by progress associations and partly funded by the village and then Council will contribute in terms of equipment and manpower to help them achieve their objectives in a shorter timeframe. It is always more impressive to see a group asking for some Council help, rather than expecting to sit back in an armchair and wait for Council to take care of it all. The impressive village entry signs are another example of progress associations bringing ideas forward to Council and then working with Council to achieve an outcome.
Overall it is a tricky tightrope to ensure there are equitable outcomes to all residents of Dubbo along with equitable dollars spent. Everyone would like to see more, but most people are very understanding that Council is not a bottomless pit and relies on money from ratepayers to achieve a number of outcomes.
Tell me if you think we get the collection/expenditure equation right most of the time at firstname.lastname@example.org
Clr Mathew Dickerson
Mayor of the City of Dubbo