Port to vote for funds to ‘fight’ merger plan

FIGHTERS: Port Stephens councillor Paul Le Mottee, mayor Bruce MacKenzie, and deputy mayor Chris Doohan, who all oppose the merger. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

PORT Stephens Councillors will vote on whether to spend $150,000 on acampaign to fight the proposed merger between it and Newcastleat an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday night.

If they go ahead with the plan –and it’s expected that they will –the council would engage consultancyfirm Morrison Low to prepare a “comprehensivesubmission”which would makethe council’s final pitch for avoiding the merger.

The money would also fund a public information campaign which, among other things, would “provide to the community of Port Stephens relevant information and data on the impacts of the proposed merger”.

Port Stephens deputy mayor Chris Doohan said the council was gearing up for a fight.

“Until it’s written in blood that the merger is going to happen, I’m going to fight it,” he said.

“It’s a crap deal for the people of Port Stephens, and so many people in the community have said the same thing to me.”

The council is required to pass a vote to spend the money because of a state government guidelinethat councils undertaking a public information campaign should have the matter “approved at an open council meeting”.

Port Stephens Council was found Fit for the Future by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, and as such it said in its staff report that“in the preparation of the Quarterly Budget Review there was no provision made for undertaking a public information campaign or preparing further submissions”.

For that reason if it is approved, the $150,000 will be allocated from the council’s underlying surplus, something Cr Doohan said was “extremely frustrating”.

“We were told so many times by so many people in the government we wouldn’t be touched, and now we’re having to reach into our back pocket,” he said.

“That’s money that could be being spent fixing roads.

“But from where I stand it’s money that needs to be spent, and it’s well worth it if it helps to fight this.”

While most Port Stephens councillors oppose the merger, Newcastle’s Labor majority hasbeen more welcoming of the plan, and lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes wants to set up a joint committee of elected councillors to help steer the transition.

However Mr Doohan said he wasn’t “in the headspace” to entertain that idea.

“I understand where Nuatali is coming from, but of course she would say that because it’s a great deal for Newcastle but a crap deal for Port Stephens,” he said.

“I’m still in fight mode on this, I don’t need to be making friends and rubbing shoulders.

“Once it is written in stone and there’s no getting around it, then it would make sense for us all to come together and map out a way forward, but at this stage it’s still just a proposal and that’s how I am treating it.”

Last week the Newcastle Heraldrevealed most of the financial benefit from the mergerwould come from employee “redeployment”.

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