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Absent: Clr Iskandar.  The following Is my understanding of the meeting & all mistakes are mine. To reduce the length of this post I will mostly remove “he said/she said” with the comments coming after the speaker’s name.

Question on Notice: Council costs associated with the boycott of Israel – 3 residents, who identified as Jewish, spoke against the BDS & asked Council to reconsider the boycott.  In summary, they said the BDS is a one-sided policy with no

Cockatoo eating a Sunflower

instances of inclusion, co-operation or serious desire for peace. It divides our community with the Aboriginal & Jewish community feeling excluded & like second-class citizens. Council should instead do peace projects & volunteer dental programs as examples & share our religious festivals.  One speaker said, I do get offended when people say that unless you believe in the BDS you don’t believe in social justice. With the BDS, you are against social justice. A local school has decided to boycott Marrickville Council activities.  One speaker asked, are we really debating middle-eastern politics in Marrickville Council? Another, Do you want to be the generation of Councillors to cause division in the community?

2 residents, 1 who identified as Jewish, spoke in support of the BDS saying it’s causing discussion in our community & is a peaceful boycott.  It doesn’t target Israeli people, rather Israeli state policies. Israel is consistent in defying international law & there are Australians who think that Palestinians deserve a fair go. It’s sad that so many Jews can’t support Palestinian human rights. The Jews are not under threat. It’s not about anti-Semitism or excluding Jews, it’s about human rights.  Because it was a Question on Notice, Councillors did not debate.

Leasing the Coptic Church Tempe – There were 2 applicants: The Anglican Catholic Church Original Province & The Coptic Orthodox Church Heritage Trust.  The Bishop for the Australian & NZ Anglican Church spoke: 3-years ago we asked Council if we could hire the Coptic Church. He spoke about the use of the church for the community with 45% of the church’s communicants being under 18-years of age. This centre is important because it’s at the gateway to Australia.  The second speaker from The Coptic Orthodox Church Heritage Trust arrived late so did not speak. The old Coptic Church now gets a new lease of life with Council deciding which of the 2 applicants will use the site.

Rescission Motion against a new park for Marrickville: Clrs Tsardoulias, Iskandar & Macri put in a Rescission Motion (RM) to stop staff looking into the feasibility of a park in front of the planned new library at the corner of Marrickville & Livingstone Roads Marrickville. The space is currently a car park & a green area with many large trees.   See – https://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2010/12/23/3-marrickville-councillors-are-trying-to-prevent-a-new-park/ I spoke against the RM.

Clr Tsardoulias: Supporting the RM. The Greens delayed the building for 6-years. Council have spent thousands on the Masterplan & to do the park we will give away affordable housing.

Clr Thanos: Opposing the RM. The delay wasn’t caused by the Greens. The assessment of the space showed that it would need a 10-storey building to have both the library & the Civic Centre there. I proposed an 11-storey building that wasn’t supported.  Now Council has to decide whether the library or the Civic centre goes there. We should not stack the site with buildings. We should maintain some green space. People are always telling me it’s needed.  We would be the only Council in the last 50-years that can deliver a park & it will be very difficult to do this in the future. The motion was to check the feasibility for this.

Families of protected Ibis live in the Canary Island Palm trees on the Marrickville site being nominated for a new park

Clr Phillips: Opposing the RM. Astounded that Clr Tsardoulias thought he was shut down in the debate as the Mayor put up an extraordinary Council Meeting that no-one, but the Greens attended. Here we are talking about a 9-storey building on a unique piece of land some way from the Cooks River. We have the lowest green space in Australia. It will be a great gateway to the new library & it’s a good thing for the community.

Clr Wright: Supporting the RM. Great concern about process. We have spent time & money & the Masterplan has been devised. If you remove 1 aspect, all aspects are up for option. It’s an opportunistic & ad hoc approach to delivering a park. A corner is not a good location for a park & it’s on the library’s back side.

Clr Olive: Opposing the RM. Clr Tsardoulias alleges that the Greens have delayed this for 6 years, the Greens have only had decision making powers for 1 year over the past 6 years. Clr Tsardoulias delayed this by his RM & asked that a report be put in by February, but your RM stopped staff from working on this.  A park on a corner is a good outcome. It’s not an ad hoc process. The Greens were consistent in the LEP discussion. We thought large buildings were unacceptable to the community. Including a park is viable.

Clr O’Sullivan: Supporting the RM. It’s not the best place for a park. It’s a busy road. Seems there is an obsession with height & some of the Greens councilors would have had a protest about St Bridget’s tower. This is the 5th or 6th consultancy of this & the key things the Greens always leave out are integrated planning & issues of design. Stick with what we have got & build low-income homes in the centre of the city.

View of the site for the proposed new park in Marrickville

Clr Macri: Supporting the RM. Residents are upset at the amount of time this site has remained idle. We were looking at the hospital building as the library so open space would have been on the Lilydale Street side. It’s not aesthetically pleasing on a busy corner. We take trees down as it suits us – 48 were removed for the Enmore Pool. We have an LEP, no-one has said anything about increasing space for a park. I don’t want things unused & people & children so close to traffic.

Clr Hanna: Supporting the RM. This is the most expensive land in Marrickville & you want to destroy it. This land can make Marrickville Council one of the richest Councils in Australia. We have to do a Masterplan for this site.

Clr Kontellis: Opposing the RM. Councillors were in support of the motion last December. We only added Point 4 asking, can we add another level, can we have a little more information so we can make an informed decision? I don’t believe this RM is in the best interest of the people of Marrickville.

Clr Peters: Opposing the RM. It’s glaringly obvious that Clr Hanna sees this land as a goldmine. I see it for the future of our community that doesn’t have much open land. The land isn’t here to build & sell housing on. Regarding parks on corners; look at Hyde Park, Enmore Park or Central Park in NYC. Most parks in built-up areas are near traffic. It’s not away in an industrial area, it’s opposite bus stops, a church & a very popular restaurant.  We have to think of the future, this is community profit that people can use.

Mayor Byrne: Opposing the RM. I believe previous Councils meant to work on this land for the community. We were gifted with Tempe Tip & we have done a great job on Tempe Reserve.  The hospital site is a main project on its own. It has opportunity & capacity. This RM will not allow us to see what this property can deliver. What was moved & adopted by Council is to ask, is it feasible on the whole site to have a park & let’s see what information we get back.  If the report says it will create problems with the viability for other projects on the site, then we won’t pursue it.

Clr Tsardoulias then read out the names of Greens Councillors who voted against aspects of this site from what he said was the Minutes of the last 6-years & said, I moved this RM because you shut me out.

Clr Thanos: When Clr Tsardoulias was not allowed to speak the debate had been closed.

Clr Tsardoulias: Putting a park here goes against affordable housing. We have got a crisis in the community. Kiss goodbye to the library & affordable housing. You are not thinking of the ratepayers. It’s financially unviable to do this as we only have $2 million in reserve.

Clrs Tsardoulias, Wright, O’Sullivan, Hanna & Macri voted for the RM. Clrs Thanos, Olive, Peters, Kontellis, Phillips & Byrnes voted against it. The RM was lost.

To keep the size of this report manageable, I will write about the other items of interest in a separate post. Here ends Report from the Gallery Part 1.

Proposed site for the new park in Marrickville

Tuesday’s Council meeting was perhaps one of the most important meetings of the year as the Asset Management Strategy Policy was on the agenda.  This report was recommending to increase rates, always a hot issue when it hits the public purse.

Money was central to most of the issues on the agenda from a donation to Haiti, whether to spend money on Addison Road or on Marrickville Railway Station, to giving the Greek Orthodox Church in Marrickville financial assistance of $5,000 to quieten down their new digital bells & to the Asset Management Strategy Policy prepared by Council staff.  There may have been more, but we did not stay until the end.

Many residents are aware  that Marrickville Council doesn’t have the money to fix things as most requests from the community take a long while before they reach the top of the list of the actions council is taking.  Staff & councillors have openly said to me on a number of occasions that Council just doesn’t have the money to do certain projects.  For me, it was obvious when reading through last week’s Tree Management Issues Paper that Parks & Gardens have been functioning under-resourced & under-financed for many years.  After what I heard discussed last night, I would not be surprised if many departments in Council are experiencing the same restrictions.  Put simply, Marrickville Council finances are in trouble.

In brief, the Asset Management Strategy Policy prepared by Marrickville Council staff said:

  • Marrickville Council cannot afford to look after its infrastructure & assets & was listed as an ‘unsustainable council’ in 2009
  • Council’s financial unsustainability was not going to improve unless they improved their financial position significantly with one option being to increase rates.

A staff member said that the reason the report was before Council was because:

  • the serious condition of our assets with significant issues facing Marrickville Council 2010-2011
  • Size & scale of financial deficit is substantial.  The draft budget first cut figure is $2 million deficit having carried through Phase 1 & 2 reductions to the budget
  • There are a lot of unknowns if the issue is deferred for another year

Marrickville Council does not have enough money to repair its assets or maintain its infrastructure.  A recent & public example is the old & beautiful Coptic Church in Sydenham Green, which featured in Council in 2009 & again last week.

It will be a significant loss to our history if we lose this building

A staff member of Council explained to me that a community organisation can apply to use the church, though they would need to sign a lease for a number of years & renovate the building themselves at an estimated cost of $2.3 million, as well as look after its upkeep for the duration of the lease before it comes back into Council’s hands again.  The problem is that the community organisations or groups that council would see as suitable to use the church building are unlikely to be able to pay for the repair of this particular building which is deteriorating at a rapid rate.  The Inner West Courier published an article about this church this week – page 9 –http://digitaledition-innercity.innerwestcourier.com.au/

The Asset Management Strategy Policy was recommending that the councillors decide whether or not to apply to the minister for a rates increase (special levy).

The debate between councillors covered the history of some projects & of previous applications for rates increases, how much public works actually cost (eg $350,000 for paving in Dulwich Hill shopping strip, $15,000 for a speed hump, $35,000 for a round-about) & about the financial burden of servicing 1 billion dollars worth of infrastructure before you even build anything new.

Despite the importance of the issue & the strong views held by councillors, the meeting was polite. There was negligible need for the chair to intervene.

The flow of the discussion allowed the councillors to ask many questions to the staff & I was impressed by the extensive & considered strategic advice they offered.  They explained how these processes work, what is the financial situation of council, what could be done with any additional funds in the kitty & what might be done if council did not apply for the special levy.

Councillors expressed concern about the financial status of council.  As expected, there was divergent opinion as to the best way to manage this situation.  I am deliberately lumping comments & strategies together to keep this brief.  Apologies for any mistakes.

The Greens expressed concern that Council was in dire financial straits & if left until next year, the situation would only worsen reminding that this issue has been deferred for many years.  They believed if the community was asked whether they would pay about $1.60 per week per household or 96 cents per week for lower income households for better roads, better footpaths & better infrastructure, the majority of rate-payers would say yes.  They were also worried about Council’s ability to pay staff & ability to maintain the substantial assets we have.  They wanted the money raised to be used for priority infrastructure renewal works.  They also reminded everyone that it has been 5 years since the last rate increase. They also argued that if left until next year, councillors will be afraid to pass a rate increase because of fearing community backlash with the upcoming election.

The remaining councillors wanted to defer the decision for another year saying that while they were concerned about Council’s financial situation, they wanted to know whether there were other cost saving measures & revenue accruing avenues that could be explored before going the route of raising rates.  Some suggestions were closing some of the libraries, advertising on billboards facing the airport road at Tempe, life-cycle planning, community consultation with residents, continuing to educate council staff on safe work practices to reduce worker’s compensation payouts, looking at verge mowing & paid parking, increasing fees to use sports ovals & child-care facilities, getting rid of unnecessary programs & operations & selling off the Marrickville Hospital site (council has not made a decision about its future for some while).

The vote by Councillors Iskandar, O’Sullivan, Wright, Thanos, Hanna, Macri was to defer for 12 months.

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