4 July 2023

'Every dollar counts': Kiama councillors react to controversial plan to cut down their numbers

| Keeli Royle
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Elected representatives of Kiama Municipal Council.

Current representatives on Kiama Municipal Council, (L-R): Neil Reilly, Warren Steel, Stuart Larkins, Mark Croxford, Imogen Draisma, Karen Renkema-Lang, Matt Brown, Jodi Keast and Kathy Rice. Photo: Kiama Municipal Council.

Kiama councillors have less than two months to decide whether they support a motion to reduce the number of elected representatives in the area.

Many councillors are now questioning how the move could impact finances and diversity.

Cr Mark Croxford put forward the proposal to reduce the number of councillors elected in 2028 from nine to seven, and the council is now seeking public feedback.

The community response will likely help inform and influence how councillors vote on the motion at a meeting next month, with many, including Mayor Neil Reilly, still on the fence about the issue.

“I’m not convinced one way or another,” Cr Reilly said. “But I think it’s a conversation that we need to have.”

Cr Croxford estimated the reduction would help the struggling council cut costs by at least $43,460 each year, which was a definite draw card for the Mayor.

“We’re in a situation where every dollar counts and we’re under no illusions that a little bit here and a little bit there doesn’t hurt,” he said. “I think it would help us stabilise our financial situation even a little bit.”

READ ALSO Kiama councillor calls for cut in number of representatives on future councils

But Cr Jodi Keast said the financial boost would not be enough to solve the council’s ongoing issues.

“It is a part of the puzzle that needs to be thought about,” Cr Keast said. “But it’s probably minor in the concept of our future liquidity strategy and property divestment plans and long-term financial plans.

“The financial aspect is one element that is probably not the driving force in assuring the future financial stability of Kiama Council.”

She said the balance would be around ensuring the community would still be represented if the number of councillors was reduced, adding that the current group was “really reflective of the population”.

“We’ve got the likes of Cr Steel who’s been on council for over 25 years and he’s one of our senior representatives and then we’ve got Cr Larkins and Cr Draisma who are the younger age range.

“This council term we’ve actually got a higher representation of women, which has been a really great outcome.”

Maintaining that representation is also a priority for Cr Stuart Larkins.

“I do think one of the concerns that I have [about] a reduction of councillors is that [there’s] the potential for a reduction in opportunities for diversity.

“This term of council we’re very fortunate that almost half of the councillors are women, but in the past there was only one woman out of the nine councillors that had been elected.”

He said although there was no guarantee that that these people would miss out, it could mean fewer opportunities.

“I’m the second-youngest councillor and also an Aboriginal person and I was one of the last two to get across, so I think the diversity aspect of councillors is something to probably consider as part of the reduction,” Cr Larkins said.

READ ALSO Kiama Council one step closer to selling aged care centre to pay off debts

The Mayor was also concerned that major political parties could view the reduced number as an opportunity to gain a majority.

“I’m not a great fan of political parties involving themselves in local government but if there are fewer councillors there may be a good strategy for political parties to put more money into having their representatives elected,” he said.

“Let’s say they put a little bit of extra effort into it and one could get four and one could get three in and that means it could be a difficult decision-making environment.”

If councillors vote in favour of the motion at their meeting on 15 August, a referendum would be triggered to coincide with the next local government election.

But Cr Larkins has now put a new item in the mix, proposing that if residents are already heading to the polls, then they should also have a say on other important issues.

“I am also of the view that if we are going to have council referendum on this particular item then we should also be asking the community on any other aspects that need to be considered for changing and one that I wanted to raise was the direct election of the mayor.”

Cr Larkins’ Notice of Motion on a popularly elected mayor will also be debated at the meeting in August.

Residents can have their say on the proposal to reduce the number of councillors through the Kiama Council Website until 8 August.

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