Newcastle City Council must be reduced

I’ve heard mutterings from the usual suspects in recent times about Newcastle City Council being ‘‘anti-community’’.

I don’t accept it. People build communities, not governments. The role of the government is to provide the basics and to not get in the way.

After eight years as a councillor, I believe Newcastle City Council has been in the way too often, and to the detriment of the ratepayers of Newcastle.

The idiom ‘‘Roads, Rates, Rubbish’’ is over-simplistic, but it does capture the essence of what local government should be about.

It is pointless providing wonderful, feel-good services if it diminishes the capacity to provide the fundamentals.

If elected lord mayor on September 8 I will immediately focus on a clear path to reduce the size of the council.

This will, necessarily, mean fewer services offered by council and it will predictably be unpopular with some. The fact is that we have a projected operating budget deficit of $8.5million. I wonder how many of my colleagues seeking re-election actually get that. You cannot eliminate a deficit of this size by tinkering at the edges.

Reduction in the size of the workforce can be a relatively simple process.

The Newcastle City Council workforce is of an age that will see more than one-third of the staff reach retirement age in the next five years. There is no need for retrenchments, and nobody need feel that their employment is not secure.

My vision here is to see a smaller, more efficient administration team and an expanded outdoors staff working to beautify our city, particularly with access to our natural features and facilities to enhance their use.

The budget deficit is a direct result of poor decision making and an unwillingness to make the necessary but unpopular decisions. We have done the reviews, we know what needs to be done, but when it comes time to make the call too few on the council have stood strong.

I don’t want to diminish the value of the services that need to cease, but this is budgeting 101. You do what you have to do first, then allocate any excess to the ‘‘nice to have’’ stuff. When assessing what is appropriate, we have to ask whether it can and should be offered by the private sector. Newcastle City Council should not be competing with local business, it should simply be providing the basics.

To improve our efficiency we must change the way we do business. I have been banging on about amalgamation ad nauseam, in the fervent hope that something, anything, will result from it. To date we have moved no closer to even genuine shared services with neighbouring councils. Last year Newcastle City Council launched the three-bin waste system, aimed primarily at reducing the volume of green waste directed to landfill, which in turn saves ratepayers millions in state government levies. Lake Macquarie City Council launched a similar system this year. It is so obviously something we could and should have collaborated on, but instead we each did it separately and at significantly higher cost as a result of the duplication.

Much has been said about the current state of Hunter Street. Fixing that is easy and I’m confident that no matter who is elected mayor this will be accomplished. The plan is done, the money is set aside, and we are just waiting for the state government to finalise the planning instrument that underpins it. Newcastle City Council actually owns very few properties on Hunter Street, so the focus will be on improving the public domain, parking, and landscaping/beautification works. There are more than 20 approved development applications for privately owned buildings on Hunter Street, and the delay in the development of those sites is more a result of the lack of availability of development finance in this economic climate than any council approval issues. One of my fellow mayoral aspirants owns two such buildings sitting idle despite having approved DAs.

I’ve been told that I do not have the statesman-like qualities expected in a mayor. I accept that, but I ask what the ‘‘statesmen’’ have delivered for Newcastle? We need more. I am never going to be a great orator, but I love this city, I work hard, and I get things done. That’s why I’ve been successful in my businesses. Newcastle needs to decide if it wants someone who’ll speak well at dinners or someone with a proven track record in running businesses who just gets things done. That’s what I offer the electorate, and am asking for you to support my team on September 8.

Aaron Buman is a Newcastle lord mayoral candidate and independent councillor.

Newcastle lord mayoral candidate Aaron Buman.