Ex-councillors' big-picture stance on region facing split
AN OFFICIAL audit into the financial viability of a Stanthorpe de-amalgamation is under way, bringing the southern part of our region one step closer to breaking away from Southern Downs council.
Granite Belt Community Association president Alan Colyer is convinced Stanthorpe residents would be prepared to foot a $200-$300 increase on annual household rates to pay for the de-merger.
"They know rates are already going to rise up to four per cent more under the present regime," Mr Colyer said.
But former mayor Ron Bellingham is concerned Stanthorpe's pensioners and low-income earners would not be able to sustain a split.
"Rates are already getting to the stage where they are unaffordable," Mr Bellingham said.
"Bluntly the rate rise (of de-amalgamation) would be significant, that is the key issue.
"I don't think the ordinary people of Stanthorpe could afford that."
While principal petitioner Mr Colyer said there was "no other option" for Stanthorpe, Mr Bellingham encouraged the community to consider alternatives.
"I do think the best thing is for the two communities to continue to work together very closely," Mr Bellingham said.
The former mayor said representation for regional towns and villages could be improved if there were 12 councillors presiding over the Southern Downs.
But that doesn't go far enough for former Glengallan Shire councillor Michael Wallace.
As one of three Division One representatives in the 1988 council of Glengallan, Mr Wallace remembers a time when councillors knew every street and pothole in their district.
Now, with eight councillors spread over a local government area spanning more than 7000sq km, some of the smaller towns and villages feel they aren't being heard.
Through successive amalgamations, Mr Wallace has seen an "ongoing decline" in services, infrastructure and upkeep in Yangan.
Mr Wallace called for the Southern Downs to be governed by divisional representation.
"In my day if I went and talked to someone down at Freestone you'd know exactly what it looked like before you got there - that was the beauty of having representatives," he said.
But Mr Bellingham said divisional representation created "more division" between communities.
"It doesn't matter where they come from providing they can see the big picture and represent the whole area," Mr Bellingham said.
Southern Downs mayor Tracy Dobie said divisional representation required each division be equally represented in regards to the number of electors.
"Based on our population spread, in our region, rural areas and smaller towns and villages would be under represented," she said.
The mayor said councillors were doing their best to stretch themselves across a huge region.
"We are out every day but it is a two and a half hour drive from the northern part to the southern part of our region. We can't be everywhere at once," Cr Dobie said.
"We all care deeply about the long-term future of our region and our communities and are aware of the challenges that are to be met."
Mr Bellingham said the controversies faced by councils deterred people from running for local government.
"There is so much angst and controversy about everything today and that does disappoint me."
Mayor Dobie said the council was working hard to understand the dissatisfaction of Stanthorpe residents in regards to amalgamation.
"We need to work together; to have a positive, constructive conversation about what is in the best interest of, not only Stanthorpe, but the whole region."
Mr Colyer said he expected more Stanthorpe representatives to run in the next council election if a de-amalgamation failed.