A group of five candidates standing for election to Snowy Valleys Council this year walked Tumut’s main street on Tuesday, trying to build unity across a ‘divided’ local government area, encouraging voters to consider the issues, rather than the personalities, involved.
The group of unlikely bedfellows included former mayors Trina Thomson (former Tumut Shire Council) and Ian Chaffery (former Tumbarumba Shire Council), along with Hansie Armour (Tumut businesswoman), Brent Livermore (former Tumbarumba councillor) and Ken Dale (Tumbarumba Chamber of Commerce).
While walking the main street, the Tumbarumba candidates said they got a better feel for the needs and interests of Tumut residents and enjoyed casual ‘yarns’ with people on the street.
They also met with Col Agate in Batlow later that day.
Both Mrs Thomson and Mr Chaffey said their purpose in walking the street together was to promote a cross-community alliance of “similarly-minded candidates” to offer the Snowy Valleys a change of pace come election day on December 4.
Mr Chaffey said it was important for there to be some “solidarity” between the candidates from Tumut and Tumbarumba, to create understanding between the regions.
“From my point of view, it’s important that we get a fresh start on the Snowy Valleys Council; one that’s consistent with representing all the people of the SVC,” he said.
With 35 years of experience on the Tumbarumba Shire Council (more than half of which was spent as Mayor or Shire President), Mr Chaffey said he felt comfortable working alongside strong-minded candidates from other regions, such as Mrs Thomson and Mrs Armour.
“It’ll be interesting,” he said, considering the possibility that he could be elected to council with four former mayors on it, if Mrs Thomson, James Hayes and John Larter are all elected.
“But I don’t think I’ll have any trouble, to be quite honest. They know where I stand – always have done. I don’t know whether they like me, but they probably respect me, and I don’t need to be liked.
“As long as you’ve got some integrity, a bit of honesty about you and you tell people how it is… I think all [bodes] well for a good future.”
Despite not feeling any qualms about serving alongside former mayors and councillors, Mr Chaffey still made it clear he wants a ‘different style’ to that which has been seen in the Snowy Valleys Council since amalgamation.
“I can’t stand idly by and watch what’s happening,” he said.
Mr Chaffey described the SRV as an ‘impost’ on the community and said the idea of a 38 per cent rate rise “horrifies” him.
“How can we possibly get into a situation like that and not do anything about it until this late hour?” he questioned.
“It’s almost beyond redemption, but with the right attitude and people who [have some knowledge] in local government, we might be able to do something about it.”
He likened the council to a business owned by the ratepayers and said the council needs to “take people on the journey” and spend more time listening and providing feedback on why certain ideas can – or can’t – work.
“Engage with the community, listen to what they have to say. You don’t always have to agree, but at least explain why you don’t,” he said.
Mrs Thomson, one time mayor of the former Tumut council, was also clear in calling for a change of council, saying that votes shouldn’t be cast based on personalities or pet projects, but rather on electing a diverse range of councillors from across the entire Local Government Area.
“People cannot just be choosing people from their own area because we need to have the diversity and input from across the whole LGA,” she said.
“Time for division is over. We need to have some unity and we need to be working together for the best outcomes for the whole community.”
Mrs Armour said she took part in the event to get a better feeling for the positions of the Tumbarbumba candidates and to build community understanding.
“We have to work together,” she said.
“It is not all about de-amalgamations. The problems which Tumbarbuma sees, the reason why de-amalgamation has become such a big issue to them, they’re the same problems that our local people here [in Tumut] see; the lack of communication, the lack of being on the journey with council, the whole lack of transparency.”
Mrs Armour said she would be keeping one of the rooms in her Tumut shopping precinct – The Connection – open for the public to meet with candidates and councillors, to help promote intra-regional communication.
“We have to work together and we have to find a way through [the current financial issues] so our communities survive.”
She said the SVC lacks ‘community capital’ – a level of buy-in and cohesiveness between the towns and even within the towns.
One of the major issues the candidates expressed concern with was the proposal for a 38 per cent Special Rate Variation, which is currently on the table.
Mrs Thomson took aim at the proposal, which will be decided on by the new council in 2022. She said she could understand a deficit budget after the former Tumut and Tumbarumba Shire Councils were amalgamated, but said that four consecutive deficit budgets and a need for a 38 per cent rate rise was inexcusable.
“The financial position the council has found themselves now in has not happened overnight,” she said.
“It’s unsustainable… [Even after hearing that the community opposed a SRV] this council still accepted unbelievable grant funding that is going to put a financial impost on the community long term.”
Mrs Thomson said she doesn’t believe the community is being listened to. She questioned why the SRV was increased from 25.44 per cent to 38 per cent after community feedback opposed the first figure.
“In five months it’s gone up 50 per cent… how can we even trust that’s going to be the final need?” she said.
“This council hasn’t shown fiscal accountability in accepting grants just because they’re grants. If you can’t afford it you can’t afford it.
“The new council will need to make some really hard decisions and that’s only going to work if there’s a really diverse cross section of candidates elected on December 4.”