After years of debate about its effectiveness, a limited Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) system is to be installed at the taxi rank in Byron Bay.
It will be installed at the Jonson Street rank with funding made available by the federal government and will be monitored by Byron Bay Taxis.
Local federal MP Justine Elliot revealed the $60,000 last Friday under the Taxi Security Scheme, which aims to improve the safety of taxi drivers at ranks where there is a high incidence of crime.
Byron Shire Council will facilitate the venture and Byron Bay Taxis confirmed with Echonetdaily they would monitor the network.
According to Mrs Elliot, the project includes an upgrade of existing lighting, installation of additional street and laneway lighting in the areas around the taxi rank, and installation of digital CCTV, with three cameras and a network video recorder workstation with potential for a wireless internet link to the Byron Bay taxi office to enable remote viewing and control at the Byron Bay taxi rank.
She says the scheme is an expansion of the successful Safer Suburbs program that has funded 65 projects worth more than $20 million since 2007 to improve community safety.
Shovel ready cash
Mrs Elliot last week also announced that $149,681 will soon be available for ‘shovel-ready projects’ in Byron Shire.
The money is earmarked for community infrastructure, and Ms Elliot says the money could go towards building and renewing sporting facilities, libraries, town halls, playgrounds and childcare facilities.
‘It will allow Byron Shire Council to generate new economic activity and jobs, while delivering infrastructure now and for the future,’ Mrs Elliot said.
Mayor Simon Richardson told Echonetdaily that he has ‘requested a memo from staff as to the details and potential projects.’
When asked if the funding could be reviewed should the coalition win September’s election, Cr Richardson said it ‘should be allocated before Abbott gets his hands on the wheel so that part should be OK.’
Loans off agenda
Meanwhile, Byron Council’s poor financial position has been blamed for its failure to be included in a state government loan that would ‘kickstart infrastructure backlogs’.
NSW minister for local government and Ballina MP Don Page announced the Local Infrastructure Renewal Scheme (LIRS) was still on offer for NSW Councils, however Cr Richardson says Byron’s financial position was not strong enough to be considered.
Cr Richardson told Echonetdaily it was a ‘reminder that we can take out a loan to pay for things that were often cost shifted onto us in the first place.’
‘It’s great to hear of the millions being allocated to councils to the south [Ballina recently received funding for an airport upgrade], but the silence about Byron Shire was deafening.
‘The loan scheme is a good one; however, councils must be eligible to obtain them and those, like us, whose financial situation is ordinary cannot apply. So it helps those who are doing well to get further ahead, while the bottom 25 per cent of councils get further behind.’
Responsible for own finance: Page
In response, Mr Page told Echonetdaily, ‘Councils are largely autonomous bodies responsible for managing their own finances. Some do this better than others. While it is tempting for councils in a weak financial position to blame someone else, it is their responsibility to manage their finances prudently.
‘The government, at the request of Local Government NSW, has appointed an Independent Review Panel, which is looking at ways to strengthen the financial position of councils, among other things. The panel will report to the government in September this year.
‘There are options currently available to strengthen a council’s finances such as resource sharing (including back-of-house services) shared procurement arrangements etc.
‘While councils in the Hunter region have strongly embraced these cost-saving arrangements, unfortunately north coast councils have generally not done this to date.’
When asked whether Brunswick Heads caravan parks management could be returned to Byron Council to strengthen its financial position, Mr Page replied, ‘A few years ago officers from both the council and Crown Lands had agreed to a land swap that would have added $3 million to the council’s books but a majority of the then councillors voted against it.’
But Cr Richardson says, ‘Council rejected the land swap as it would have short-changed the residents of Brunswick Heads and the other part of the swap, the Byron pool area, was also mired in contention.’
The caravan park takeover fiasco continues to be a thorn in the side of both major parties: after the former NSW Labor Party assumed control of three of the shire’s caravan parks in 2006, its revenue was diverted from council to the state.
Disgraced former NSW Labor MP Tony Kelly signed off on the takeover without warning or explanation.