Ethics versus money at Bellingen Shire Council

WEDNESDAY'S extraordinary meeting of Bellingen Shire Council has resulted in a controversial split between councillors over ethics and money.

The meeting was called to rearrange the priorities for shire projects to potentially benefit from the $408,000 Commonwealth windfall announced last year.

The original list was finalised by councillors in December, in the absence of Crs Coe and Scott.

Now, with Cr Kerry Child on leave, the decision to change the list was deadlocked 3-3 and the casting vote of the mayor, Mark Troy, was needed to break the impasse.

The new revised list places the enhancement of both Dorrigo and Urunga CBDs at second and third spots on the list, behind the Bellingen toilet block upgrade, and was not supported by Crs Sean Tuohy, Bruce Cronin and Gordon Braithwaite.

Cr Tuohy described the process as unethical and opportunistic.

“After the decision in December, three councillors came under pressure from the chambers of commerce in Dorrigo and Urunga . . . and have voted to satisfy these outside constituencies at the cost of betraying fellow council members,” Cr Tuohy said.

“Cr Child's pet project (the community services centre proposed for William Street, Bellingen) has been bumped in her absence.

“We had spent so much time trying to create a co-operative decision-making process within the new council - now that's been chucked away.”

Cr Ian Coe, however, said the December list risked the council losing up to $260,000 of the $408,000.

“The three major projects would have used up most of the funds with one of the projects being a cycle path for Dorrigo,” Cr Coe said.

“We have since found out funding will not be provided for cycleways.

“Once this failed and without a bid in place for an alternative project, $60,000 of Commonwealth funding would have been lost. The same applies to the Bellingen toilet block project, $200,000, which may also fail to attract funding. We felt something had to be done to rectify this possible loss.”

Cr Coe said allegations that Cr Child had been 'shafted' were '“arrant nonsense'.

“There was no conspiracy to defeat Cr Child. The concept plan is still on the list and if the major projects are accepted it will be academic anyway.”

Cr Troy said the new list improves on the previous list 'but will still make some people unhappy'.

“The reality is there's enormous competition for this Commonwealth money,” he said.

“A report on the William Street project is on the agenda for both the February council meeting and the council's strategic planning workshop.”

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