Owing to his wealth of council knowledge, The Echo asked recently retired two-term Greens councillor Duncan Dey his thoughts on some of the big issues facing the Shire.
Raising rates via a special rates variation (SRV) has been looming over the Byron Shire Council since the state government threatened all NSW councils with amalgamation if they weren’t financially Fit For the Future (FFF).
The biggest hurdle for Council is its failing roads.
Roads are one asset that will always cost the council money and the more people using them the faster they degrade.
Dey says, ‘You need to maintain them. There are large amounts of traffic both from tourists and the large amount of unapproved accommodation that has been created over the years.
‘Roads are deteriorating at a much higher rate than other assets because of the large and increasing resident numbers, tourists because there is no public transport – to live in the Shire you must own your own car.’
Having served as a councillor from 2002 to 2004 and a second term from 2012 to 2016, Dey has had plenty of experience working out where Council spends its finite pool of money.
‘As far as I understand it from Council staff, historically the quality of the roads has deteriorated because from the small amount of money the Shire has to spend it has also diminished the portion being spent on roads.
‘Maintaining a new road is far cheaper than an old one.
‘This fact combined with the level of traffic on a road will determine where it stands in the queue for repairs.
‘Currently the council is working towards an asset management system that rates the roads from a high asset, in good condition, to a low asset.
‘Once it gets to the bottom class – it’s a basket case,’ said Dey. ‘A low-class asset is a road that will need to be rebuilt’. This road then becomes a long term project because rather than being $7/m2 to fix ‘it is hundreds of thousands of dollars.’
SRV only option
‘Because local government is the tail on the dog of state government and has to follow state government legislation, a SRV is the only option that a council controls to raise extra funds.
‘Council made the financial changes and promises to get us over the line as part of the FFF agreement. One of the promises made was the SRV. The new council shouldn’t be blamed for the current situation.’
Nonetheless, Dey says he wouldn’t be voting for the SRV unless it was combined with a range of other measures.
‘If I were on Council, I would be saying to the general manager that unless the SRV is part of a package of endeavours that included:
‘First: raising parking fees in Byron from $3 to $4 an hour – which could raise something like a million dollars.
‘Second: a bed tax. Council should pursue that until their knuckles are worn off. There is also an alternative to bed tax, which is to try to increase rates for businesses involved in tourism.
‘Third: currently rates are based on the unimproved value of land. Council should be beating its little drum to make rates based on the improved value of land.
‘If these weren’t part of a range of strategic policies then I wouldn’t vote for it.’
Complaints have been coming fast following New Years Eve and the Falls Festival focusing on illegal camping and the rubbish left behind.
‘This is an ongoing issue. Council has regulations and signage for no camping,’ says Dey. ‘We could just build toilets at areas we know people are camping illegally or we could create enough spaces and charge money to camp.
‘If not, we have to have enough enforcers to stop the illegal camping. Rangers need to charge fines.’
As the tourists flow in the question of the Byron bypass continues to simmer in the background.
According to Dey, it will be in the courts for some time to come and the longer it spends there the less likely it is the bypass will be built.
Predicted to reduce traffic in the congested Byron CBD by just 18 per cent, the bypass has a long controversial history. Though Dey supported it when on Council; he saw it as part of a range of solutions rather than a solution in its own right.
‘It’s not the answer to traffic. Traffic is in such a state of chaos that it will only ever be dealt with through a suite of changes.
‘The old paradigm – the dinosaur answer to road congestion – is to build more roads. Australians have yet to wake up to demand management in regards to driving their cars. So, in his wisdom, the previous MP for Ballina Don Page made his swan song the $10 million funding of the Byron bypass.
‘But now it will cost more and may need to be scrapped. I predict that when it finally becomes shovel-ready, the cost will be so high that councillors will have to think twice before it goes ahead.’
Other solutions would range from public transport and park and ride through to shared and pedestrian zones.
‘I see no reason why Jonson Street shouldn’t be a pedestrian zone,’ said Dey.
With a new council finding its feet, Dey hopes that they will remember to listen and respond to the community.
‘My hope is that they listen to their community.
‘They can’t just go for the result; they have got to cherish the process and take their community with them.
‘Secondly, I would like them to resolve the conflicts between the coastal real estate and nice beaches; you can’t have both. My priority is the beaches. We can look after the landholders – but that may not include what they clamour for.
‘Thirdly, I’d like them to establish industries that aren’t based on tourism, but are based on our attributes, for example niche food production.’
Finally, what would make this council remarkable?
‘Infrastructure. Score us some public transport. Get the states to pay for the public roads. The gem would be public transport – it would be great to get the train going.’