By TONY FOSTER
AS 2014 draws to a close, we can reflect on what has been a year of considerable success for the Brighton Council and for our municipality. Perhaps the best measure of success for Council is the re-election of all Councillors in the October local government elections. While our ratepayers had a variety of choices at the election, they determined that they were well-served by their sitting Councillors and re-elected everyone to serve them for another four years. I congratulate all Councillors and particularly Deputy Mayor Barbara Curran who received enormous community support at the election.
In my recent State of the Council address, I reflected on some of the successes we have achieved over the past 12 months, many of them probably seen as unachievable or at least extremely difficult when we set out.
As an example, to secure the school farm on its current site is one of those successes of which Council can extremely be proud. Importantly, it also protects our new planning scheme and while there is still work required on environmental standards, it has secured the future of this important community asset. Emphasising Council’s commitment to the school farm, Council has now agreed to provide two scholarships annually to students who will use opportunities at the farm to further their educational qualifications. The Jordan River Learning Centre Senior School principal Robyn Storey is thrilled with Council’s decision and said it represented a significant contribution providing an exceptional opportunity for students to participate in tertiary or trade courses in an area of their specialisation
I make no apology by saying that some Councillors used this issue as a political tool and too often handled the facts and the truth rather carelessly. I hope that through our efforts in securing the farm school and demonstrating our support by awarding the scholarships, this, at times, divisive issue has now been put to rest.
Another major success for Council and one which was often seen as one we could not win was the signing of an agreement with the Department of State Growth for Brighton to maintain certain road verges and roundabouts in our Municipality, under a financial partnership in place for the next five years . Council’s outdoor staff have already begun the transformation and our team is relishing the opportunity to showcase our civic pride. Feedback from the community suggests that our perseverance in securing the deal with the State Government was well worth the effort. The challenge for us now is to continue to be a leader in all areas of local government including environmental sustainability and innovation.
We have the staff and Councillors in place to reinforce Brighton’s position as an extremely sustainable council which encourages me to make some comments on the frequently raised question of local government mergers. At the moment, it seems that almost everyone has an opinion on council amalgamation or mergers. The new Lord Mayor of Hobart, the Mayor of Launceston and the editor of the Mercury have all recently called for fewer councils, joining the Property Council chief executive Brian Wightman on the subject. Interestingly, Mr Wightman was a Minister in the former Labor Government and did nothing on the issue, but now appears to have plenty to say. The current Minister for Local Government Peter Gutwein has also said that he would have a conversation with Mayors over the next three months and I look forward to that. Brighton Council’s position is very clear, backed by our community’s support, particularly the endorsement of our Fair Rating Policy and adherence to our policy of rate increases being kept at or below the Consumer Price Index. In any discussion that I or we might have, these two issues are beyond challenge. We will not agree to any change that disadvantages the community and ratepayers of Brighton and our fair rate regime maintaining the cheapest local government rates in Tasmania, will not be sacrificed.
The way forward for Brighton is growing our professional services arm, including our unique software development business, Microwise Australia. Providing services to other councils, both in Tasmania, interstate and in the South Pacific, is a large component of what we do now and is critical to some of those councils with whom we now work. Microwise will continue to be a success story for Brighton and we are continually looking at ways to grow that business.
We have established a range of local government, business and community partnerships and will continue to develop these in the future. This all serves to improve the opportunities, living standards, services, sporting and cultural activities, public amenities and facilities for our community. It all adds up to Brighton being able to stand alone and be sustainable long in to the future. It would be a brave sole who suggests our municipality should be swallowed up by any of the larger city councils where their performance is no match for that of Brighton.
As this is my last column for the year, could I again thank you for the support you have given me as Mayor and particularly for giving me the honour to continue to serve you for another four years.
May I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a happy and successful New Year. I look forward to an exciting and progressive year ahead has we work to build on our past efforts and create more opportunities for all in our community.