Last week Ballina Shire Council saw some unanimous agreement – about protecting the southern beaches and the council budget – and dissension about the Alstonville sub-division near the bitumen plant, the SCU scholarship, library funding and flood mitigation on the Newrybar Swamp Road.
As has already been reported, the passionate debate on the rescission motion for the Alstonville DA failed, with Mayor David Wright using his casting vote to break the deadlock in favour of the development proceeding.
The second major motion of the day, about closing Patch’s Beach to 4WD access, with a view to closing all the southern beaches to the general public in 4WDS, was unanimously supported.
Councillor Eoin Johnston, who moved the motion, thanked his fellow councillors for their support with the process, which he said was working properly. ‘It’s good, it’s the way things should happen,’ he said.
This was followed by unanimous support for a review of policy regarding council structures in private waterways around Ballina.
Most of the afternoon was devoted to the major delivery program and operation plan for Ballina Council in 2020-2021.
The councillors said they were grateful not to be be in the dire position of neighbouring councils, despite the challenges of COVID-19. They all thanked the General Manager Paul Hickey and his staff.
Cr Benjamin Smith said the council’s financial buffer meant that they would be able to deliver 80-90% of what they wanted to do, and were ‘very lucky in that regard’.
There was a discussion about the disastrous situation with the Wollongbar sports field access reconstruction, in which government stimulus money was used to fund failed works, with the ‘statement of facts pretty damning’. Councillors agreed to monitor the new work closely and seek further legal advice before finalising how much council support would be given, although they were looking at a bill ‘in the vicinity of $200,000’.
Cr Sharon Cadwallader thanked everyone who had made submissions to the financial report, and also staff. She said she had never seen anything like it in her time on council, with ‘every effort made to reduce financial import on the community in these trying times’.
The budget had taken a hit at the airport with reduced flights due to COVID-19, ’42 flights from next week speaks volumes about the confidence in our airport here, leading the country,’ Cr Cadwallader said.
Cr Keith Williams said, ‘It’s a good budget and impressive under difficult circumstances’, with lots of good projects set for future years. There are great things contained in our operational plan and delivery plan, and I think we should all be pleased with it.’
The motion to support the budget was carried unanimously.
Next on the agenda was a call from the Chamber of Commerce for partial support from council for Christmas street lights.
After some discussion about whether they were going to turn pink like the last ones, Cr Smith said, ‘If we’re going to spend millions of dollars on the airport for tourism, we can spend a few thousand on prettying the place up.’
The motion was carried.
Following was a debate about whether the $10,000 scholarship from council to support underprivileged but worthy students to travel at SCU should be discontinued, with the money to be distributed to community groups. After a fairly heated discussion, this was carried, with existing scholarships to be continued to their conclusion.
The other major discussion for the afternoon was mainly concerned with improving safety access for school students at Sunrise Crescent (paths associated with Epiq Ocean Breeze works) and Ballina Public School.
It was decided that the Sunrise Crescent footpath would be expedited, but the discussion was inconclusive about fixing the potholes outside Ballina Public School, with that request to be punted up to State Government level for now.
Council acknowledged the submission from Newrybar Swamp road resident Mr Skinner, whose property is badly affected by flooding, but after councillors visited the site Cr Eoin Johnston said, ‘It’s a pimple on an elephant, this thing, with apologies to Mr Skinner.
‘It’s very important to him, but if you go up the top of the hill and look at the whole valley, Jesus, it’s millions of dollars. Does council have a plan to drain the whole valley?’
Council staff said they would be briefing council about drainage plans for the area.
A last minute request from the Richmond Tweed Library Service for an additional $52,000 on top of their $1.4 million budget was denied, but a small pay increase for councillors was approved.
New asbestos rules and additional funding for studies to improve the health of North Creek were supported, but a major upgrade of the public park at Wardell was delayed, for now.
The meeting closed with a tacit acknowledgment from Mayor Wright of Black Lives Matter, with related issues touching the lives of people around the world, including in Ballina.
‘I really think that what’s happening internationally at the moment, that everything we can do to respect people will make a huge difference,’ he said.