Not everything went smoothly for Mayor Mick Curran and Gympie Regional Council 2017.
Not everything went smoothly for Mayor Mick Curran and Gympie Regional Council 2017. Greg Miller

UNDER REVIEW: 5 things that went wrong for council in 2017

1. The Rattler doesn't quite return

 

The return of the Mary Valley Rattler has been delayed by several months.
The return of the Mary Valley Rattler has been delayed by several months. Renee Albrecht

THE biggest council-run project now on the books, the return of the Mary Valley Rattler has been plagued by delays and cost blow-outs.

The $3.8 million already committed by the council through the controversial Economic Development Levy had almost doubled by the end of the year, with ratepayers now forking out more than half of the $14.5 million Rattler resuscitation bill.

There is no denying the Rattler is an icon in the region, but its return has always hinged on how long Gympie residents would foot the bill.

The original (and apparently divorced-from-reality) business case stated the service would start returning a profit in only its third year.

What do you think was the most controversial decision by council in 2017?

This poll ended on 10 January 2018.

Current Results

The Rattler doesn't quite return

20%

Dump changes brought in

27%

Widgee Engineering refused

25%

Legal policy threatens to chill community speech

22%

Lady Mary dips in Mary St

3%

This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Of course, this was based on an initial total investment of $10.6 million, a number which many (including those in the council) no doubt look at wistfully given what happened.

It is also hard not to look at the state's input and wonder if it might have been better elsewhere, as the Works for Queensland funding was already allocated to the region with the council to decide what to use it for.

The Rattler can still be a roaring success when it returns, but it will take a long time to chug past the problems of the past year.

2. Dump changes

 

Jan Watt, Tom Marshal, Roger Hogg and Chris De Vere are not happy about changes to the Mary Valley dumps.
Jan Watt, Tom Marshal, Roger Hogg and Chris De Vere are not happy about changes to the Mary Valley dumps. Renee Albrecht

RUBBISH is a part of everyday life, so uproar over changes to a basic service is to be expected.

However, the decision to slash hours and bring in gate fees to Gympie's dumps has attracted anger on almost every level.

It rankled Mary Valley residents so much that two petitions carrying almost 1000 signatures were lodged. Many, including an ex-councillor, still eagerly await an update.

READ MORE: Five things the council did well in 2017

So far the council has taken a "wait and see" approach to the concerns, and several councillors have said many residents are happy with the changes.

A survey to gauge the public's view on the changes will reportedly be done early this year, but it seems it will be conducted at the dumps only - a place not likely to be frequented by those so frustrated they have decided dumping in bushlands or burning rubbish in their backyard is the best option. No doubt there is a health and safety argument about the need to supervise sites, but the response raises questions about community consultation.

3. Widgee Engineering refused

 

Widgee Engineering Chris Austin, Brodyn Davey and Billy Bennett are facing uncertain futures.
Widgee Engineering Chris Austin, Brodyn Davey and Billy Bennett are facing uncertain futures. Renee Albrecht

THE Lower Wonga solar farm may have been a big win for council when it comes to jobs, but the Widgee Engineering decision is the exact opposite.

Aside from the employees who now have an uncertain future, the decision to force the company to move or close will impact in other ways.

The Widgee store and school are facing significant losses, and the new solar farm could also be hurt because it had said it was looking at Widgee Engineering as big part of its development.

The decision brings other questions.

A big problem raised about Widgee Engineering was that it was a high-impact industry operating in a rural zone, and the need for it to move was said to begin and end there.

Except that this argument never started in the meeting when Corbets' high-impact quarry was approved in a Mary Valley rural zone.

Of course, the quarry was recommended as economically needed for Gympie's population of 20,000.

But the engineering company isn't needed for Widgee and its population of about 800?

People's concerns about the damage the business might have on their properties shouldn't be ignored, but neither should the voices of more than 100 residents who rallied in support of keeping the business in the rural town in the future.

4. Speech chill

 

A policy which gave clear guidelines for when ratepayer money could be used for councillors to launch defamation action was roundly condemned.
A policy which gave clear guidelines for when ratepayer money could be used for councillors to launch defamation action was roundly condemned. Tom Daunt

POLICY is a word that usually makes eyes glaze over, and the one which aimed to make clear the guidelines for council funding of legal matters in June did the opposite.

The wider policy was to clarify when councillors could get financial support when defending legal action incurred at work, but it was overly broad guidelines on launching defamation action, including comments on social media, which set off the alarm.

It is well known that people are fond of saying horrible and daft things online, but the threat of government money being used to fuel legal action against people brings with it a chill to free speech rights on par with Antarctic temperatures.

And fears over the potential use of ratepayer money on private legal action were not restricted to a few.

To recap: A University of Queensland law professor who has been an associate to two Federal Court judges said it was a bad idea. The Gympie Times said it was a bad idea. So did the general public, as well as our State MP, our Federal MP, and the State's own Local Government Minister, not to mention the state governments of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. Those who look closely might see a pattern.

To date this policy has been left in limbo, and it is unknown if the defamation action clause will ever see the light of day again.

5. Lady Mary dips into Mary St

 

Lady Mary has proven to be a divisive idea.
Lady Mary has proven to be a divisive idea.

LADY Mary Lennox's river might be loved in Gympie, but her statue has proven to be much more divisive in the community.

Unveiled in February, the $30,000 statue attracted a lot of attention, but not necessarily in the way the council had hoped. The reaction prompted Gympie historian Elaine Brown to write an article elaborating on Lady Mary's history and her connection to the region.

There's no doubt that by its very nature art is controversial, but despite an urban design expert saying the work had attracted more than 200,000 hits online, the statue continues to leave the region split.

Gympie Times


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