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Found on a verge in Petersham - wonderful initiative

This was the Council Meeting.  Absent: Mayor Byrne & Clr Phillips.  The following is how I understood the meeting & all mistakes are mine.

Proposed lease of Jarvie Park – A person from Pathways Early Intervention Services spoke in favour of the lease. Held the lease for the past 10-years. They offer children with disabilities access to early childhood services. A large percentage of the children come from Aboriginal & diverse cultural backgrounds.  Pathways want to pay for a second story extension on the building.

Clr Iskandar: Moved & supported the recommendation.  Clr Olive: Proud there are services & organizations like this in our LGA. Supported the recommendation as it gives security of tenancy, especially as they are putting money into this.  Clr O’Sullivan:  A condition of the lease is that the lessee remain financially viable. Asked staff – where does their income of $1.2 million come from?  Staff: From their operational budget supported by government funding. The capital works costs will be funded by donations.  Clr O’Sullivan: Early intervention is absolutely critical. It’s fantastic infrastructure to have in our area.  Clr Kontellis: Supported the recommendation. Made an amendment – Council write to the other local government areas in Pathways catchment & inform them of Council’s support in offering reduced rates. Clr Iskandar: Happy to include this. Carried unanimously.

Update verge management service options  – The General Secretary of the United Services Union spoke.  The workers are keen to work with Council about verge management. He then said he wanted to put the record straight about waste services, that the workers are not being listened to or heard.  The Chair Clr Iskandar reminded him that the issue was verge management.  After the speaker returned to the industrial relations matter, Clr Thanos said all councilors were willing to see staff & their contact details were on the public record. He suggested that they have their issue put on the agenda for next month’s meeting.  Clr Iskandar moved the recommendation.

Clr Olive:  The verge mowing issue has been around a long time. I have never said we should be removing grass verges. There are ways we could do things better. I hope the staff take up the opportunity to get involved with bush pockets etc so we can bring in water-sensitive urban design & other things. This is not to take away the mowing – could give people an opportunity to get new skills. Clr Peters: Agreed with Clr Olive.  Any discussion we have had has been about maintaining the good services.  I have trouble with $260,000 put away for a Street Tree Inventory. I’m against this as a first step & don’t see the point of paying someone to photograph the trees. The Street Tree Inventory should not be included; it’s not urgent & could be done over a period of years.

Clr Thanos:  I’m going down the path of alternative services & planting is the way to go. Getting rid of concrete gets the community involved with our staff & that’s a win/win.  This gives the staff an opportunity to learn new skills. Planting plants, shrubs & trees is a good thing. He congratulated staff for looking at alternatives to hard surfaces.

Clr O’Sullivan:  Report reporting on $30,000 for part-time officers to work with selective street management. $50,000 looking at alternative treatments. I strongly support the Tree Inventory. Right now we are listening to a national debate about climate change. If we are going to have a proper approach to trees & not random like in the past & if we are going to respect trees, we need to look at trees & their growing conditions. This must be done by experts. We won’t have mistaken planting like a Nettle tree planted close to a house. We need to keep upfront costs clear in our head & be careful that [we don’t go] some streets are worth more than other streets in the way they express their community spirit. They may not all be like Wilga Avenue. Let’s go slowly.

Clr Macri:  What happened with Wilga Avenue won’t suit all people. There’s a lot of problems with parking, trip hazards & exposing Council to liabilities [with verge gardens, not Wilga Avenue].  We don’t know what the long-term issues are.  What happens if renters remove grass & later move out?  I think it’s great on corners & Council can look after it.  If they are not cleaned & maintained, they collect garbage. Imperative for Council to have a strategic plan for trees. Do we have enough trees now? Are we over the canopy percentage for 14 kms? $160,000 for just planting, but budget wasn’t included. Council did have a street crew, now we have contractors.  I don’t want to see the policy affect jobs.

Clr Tsardoulias:  Support Cls O’Sullivan & Macri.  Council needs to put in extra provisions for training because some outdoor staff can’t read or write. I don’t want them disadvantaged if doing a horticultural course [or] when applying for opportunities for advancement.  Some residents don’t like verges or gardens. There are issues with verge gardens. People planted wild Figs & weeds in Newtown & mothers can’t get prams out of cars. We have got to be realistic so that jobs are sustained.

Clr Hanna: Support Clrs O’Sullivan, Macri & the Tree Inventory. I want to know how many trees are planted in the wrong place & should be in a park.  Clr Kontellis:  It’s very clear we are on the same page that Council won’t be advocating any job losses in shifting the way we manage our verges. In fact, we are increasing our positions & providing support for staff to increase their skills through training. This is a pilot program. We are offering residents an opportunity to get involved, try things & make it sustainable. We will not support job loss.

Clr Iskandar: Thanked the workers & union rep. We encourage 2 sides to communicate to resolve conflict. Our council is a community council, not a government body. We are here to support workers to look for more jobs & their health & safety.  About mowing, we started with consultation with every house [to see] what they wanted on their street. We allowed Wilga & we kept the grass because people love it.  Carried unanimously.  Here ends Part 1.

Growing veggies on the verge in Petersham

 

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Council Meeting. Absent: Clr Iskandar. The following is how I understood the meeting & all mistakes are mine.

Community hall hire – A speaker she had researched who used the halls in Marrickville & found it was mostly people from a NESB & that attending was the highlight of their week. She said they were independent, but still disadvantaged. She said these functions improve quality of life, happiness & well-being & as such there should be no fees charged for hall & meeting room use. If Council could not do this, then they should do community consultation & assess which groups did not have

Pansies in a public space in Botany

ability to pay. She said group bookings should be a separate issue & people from outside the LGA should be able to hire the facilities to help pay for the upkeep of the facilities.

Clr Thanos said Council was asking $10/hr/per group & had done a budget adjustment for groups that can’t afford hire charges giving them $1,000/yr towards this. He said Council want to help disadvantaged groups, but stop other NFP groups who make money by taking advantage of Council.  Clr Wright opposed the recommendation saying if it was passed she would put up a foreshadowed motion to revert back to Council’s previous policy. Clr Kontellis opposed the motion saying she thought the process would be labour intensive & she wasn’t sure it would deliver equity. Clr Phillips said he would support Clr Wright’s foreshadowed motion & said the process is creating unnecessary bureaucracy.

Clr Macri supported the motion saying disadvantaged groups will be looked after & that it was difficult for Council not to look at revenue streams when council is in such a dire financial position. Clr Hanna was against the recommendation & said political parties must pay to use the facilities. Clr Thanos said Council cannot exclude NFP groups & a return to the previous policy would be endorsing a $60,000 budgetary hole. He also said the current operating surplus of Council was “$100 or close to.” He said this was a well-endorsed decision that took 6 years to make & should be trialed for 12 months. The recommendation was lost. Only Clrs Macri & Thanos voted for it.

Clr Wright put up the motion to revert back to previous policy not to charge NFP organizations & said those who charge an entrance fee should pay $19/hr for halls & $15/hr for meeting rooms. Clr Hanna said again that political parties must pay.  This motion was lost with Clrs Thanos, Byrne, Macri & Tsardoulias voting for it. They then voted to revert back to Council’s previous policy, which was carried. Clrs Thanos, Hanna & Macri voted against it.

Most of the verges around Marrickville LGA look like this at the moment

Verge mowing – Council wants to do a staged cessation of verge mowing over 3 years encouraging the community to plant these spaces.  2 residents spoke for the recommendation saying they were impressed with the quality of the Report & if implemented, could transform the streets of the LGA. They said issues such as better stormwater management & minimal use of impermeable surfaces would help the Cooks River, biodiversity would increase as would community input & participation, safety & social harmony. Using the money to clean up shopping areas would improve amenity & make Marrickville LGA look more attractive & planting verges would result in less dumping. One mentioned that Bush Pocket sites look after themselves after 6 years & that the pollution from 1 small petrol lawn mower operating for 1 hour was equivalent to 10 standard cars.

Verge garden in Marrickville

Another resident spoke against saying that Bush Pockets shouldn’t be included in the Report as they are a separate issue. She also said that there needed to be community consultation before Council decided to stop mowing verges. She said Council couldn’t dictate that people mow verges, that Council has too many grassed areas that should be removed & that areas along the Cooks River should be planted out so people cannot get to into these areas to assist wildlife. She thought the report had many flaws & did not consider those in the community who would not be able to mow their verge.

Clr Thanos moved that the Report be noted & delayed for 3 months for further consultation & be included in the community consultation for the Urban Forest Policy. He said Musselbrook Council had removed verges from some of their median strips saving the Council millions of dollars & the residents were happy with the plants chosen. He said different community groups have different needs, that it was a shame that more in the community did not want to volunteer for Bush Pockets, but Council wanted to massively change services that have been provided for 40 years. He had no problem asking for a special rate levy to pay for this. He thought the change should be over 10-20 years.  He was also concerned that Council workers would fear they may lose the jobs.

Clr O’Sullivan thought it was an ambitious policy that had pitfalls & wanted an amendment that Council was planning to present the Public Domain Policy in the next 2 months & as verges are a part of this, should be included in that policy. Clr Wright said she supported Clr Thanos & Bush Pockets initiatives, but was opposed to removing essential services.  She thought that providing mowing for all the exceptions would result in extra costs & that this is a traditional service.

Clr Phillips also supported Clr Thanos saying it was a long-term project & Council needed to support the community who were interested in planting out verges. Clr Peters also supported Clr Thanos & said she thought Council needed to encourage the community to view verges in a different way. She said Randwick, Waverley, Ashfield, Manly & Burwood Councils don’t mow the verges. She was supportive of saving money. Clr Olive also supported Clr Thanos saying he would never support cutting mowing to this extent. He said he hoped Council would cut down 1-2 cycles from the 11 per year & the money saved could support the community taking measures that they want. Clr Kontellis supported Clr Thanos saying this issue was greater than merely saving money.

Clr Hanna also supported Cr Thanos & said the residents don’t get this service for free, they pay rates & are paying enough money for this service. Clr Macri didn’t support the motion, but said he did not support ceasing mowing. He said the

Verge garden in St Peters

residents are not happy with the edging not being done & reducing mowing cycles only means that cutting the grass takes longer labour hours. He supported Bush Pockets & thought most in the community didn’t know that they could garden their verges.  He said Council’s policy on tree planting was less than desirable with trees pulled out & broken.

Clr Tsardoulias supported Clr Thanos saying it was an alarming report & asked who is responsible if someone trips over something someone other than Council has planted. He was concerned about access for prams & people with disabilities. He said he would not support cutting services, job loss or redundancies & proposed an amendment to restore edging. Clr Thanos said he couldn’t support this as it saved around $500,000/year. Staff said instead of edging, better street cleaning was done. If edging wasn’t done they could employ less summer staff. Clr Hanna supported Clr Tsardoulias’ amendment. Clr Peters did not, saying St Peters residents were happy at the increased cleaning of streets. Mayor Byrne said she didn’t support immediate reinstatement, but was happy to investigate further & look into a special rate levy. Clr Tsardoulias’ motion was lost. Clr O’Sullivan’s motion was carried unanimously.

The new Urban Forest Policy was also part of the agenda. I will post about this separately.

 

The University of Tasmania have just completed a 3 year nation-wide study as to why some people prefer a leafy front garden while others don’t. Interestingly, tertiary educated people preferred trees & the higher the  income, the more trees. http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/05/03/2888948.htm

An unusual story of public tree removal in Newport:  The Cumberland Courier reported that an unspecified number of trees & scrub has been removed from Barenjoey Road by Pittwater Council. Residents requested the trees be removed saying the trees were not native & removing them would open up the area to ocean views from North Newport. http://cumberland-courier.whereilive.com.au/news/story/trees-removed-barrenjoey-views-restored/

Pittwater Council’s Natural Environment Reference Group has submitted a plan to have all new DAs required to maintain wildlife corridors across their land. This would also include retaining dead trees, as these are especially important for providing homes for a variety of wildlife.  The new plan specifically targets the protection of Green-&-Gold Bell Frogs, Swift Parrots, Squirrel Gliders, Southern Brown Bandicoots & (would you believe they are even there) Koalas.  Any DA will also be required to plant more trees & wildlife sustaining landscaping. http://manly-daily.whereilive.com.au/news/story/protection-plan-for-endangered-animals/

Mid April 2010 North Sydney Council decided to explore the idea of replanting garden beds in parks & reserves with vegetables. http://cumberland-courier.whereilive.com.au/news/story/councillors-dig-vegie-patch-idea/

North Sydney Council stopped mowing verges early 2009, but after complaints from residents, they will now do a one-off mow at the cost of $58,000. They also intend to reinstate verge mowing by the end of 2010.

Just as an aside, I was told Marrickville Council spends about $2 million per year mowing our verges.  Makes me wonder what that that money could be used for if we just mowed our own & our neighbours if they didn’t have a mower.  $2 million could repair the Coptic Church in Sydenham for history’s sake & for community use or it could buy a lot of street & park trees amongst many other things. I saw a sign in Catherine Street Leichhardt yesterday that read something like – ‘2.3 million dollar footpath upgrade.’ Or we could just grow veggie or flower gardens on our verges.   http://cumberland-courier.whereilive.com.au/news/story/nature-strips-to-be-mowed-soon/

Energy Australia has angered the community once again by ‘butchering’ 2 large trees in Allambie Heights shopping centre. http://manly-daily.whereilive.com.au/news/story/locals-angry-over-allambie-tree-butchery/

An 18 metre high Port Jackson Fig tree with a canopy spreading about 15 metres listed on the Significant Tree Register of City of Sydney Council was removed last month due to extensive rot.  It was part of a row of Figs in Joynton Aveneue Zetland.  The lost tree will be replaced by a mature Port Jackson Fig. http://cumberland-courier.whereilive.com.au/news/story/urgent-removal-of-fig-tree-in-zetland/

City of Sydney Council has joined with Marrickville Council in formally opposing the M5 extension that will go through Tempe Reserve, over Tempe Wetlands & terminate at Euston Road at Sydney Park. Terrific news. http://sydney-central.whereilive.com.au/news/story/sydney-council-formally-opposes-m5-extension/

It will be interesting to learn how the trial at removing smog in the M5 during March went. http://cumberland-courier.whereilive.com.au/news/story/m5-pollution-trial/

A home up for sale in the Brisbane suburb of Mackenzie incurred $20,000 damage after the front garden was excavated & 10 Palm trees stripped down by unknown workers who fled when people came to watch.  It is thought they were working on the wrong property. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/australiaandthepacific/australia/7685319/Australian-workmen-dig-up-wrong-garden.html

Finishing the ongoing story about the trees in the carpark of Walmart in Henderson Tennessee that were savagely pruned recently, Walmart have been ordered to replace 100 of the Elm trees. This will cost them around US$25,000. http://www.wkrn.com/Global/story.asp?S=12213247

row of trees along a footpath in Birchgrove

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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