In a sign that the local community is invested in the future of Coonabarabran, the Warrumbungle Shire Council Chamber was filled to capacity on Tuesday evening for the six-monthly community consultation meeting.
The meeting was chaired by Ms Leanne Ryan, Council’s acting general manager, with Michael Jones, director corporate and community services; Kevin Tighe, director technical services; and Aileen Bell, acting director development services, on hand to answer queries raised.
“The purpose of this meeting is for the public and the community to bring matters to our attention,” said Ms Ryan.
High on the list of issues raised was the potential refurbishment of the Coonabarabran Swimming Pool, disability services and access, encouragement of new business, and appropriate response times from council.
David Hunter, NSW Ambulance paramedic and station manager at Coonabarabran, presented a well-prepared brief outlining the problems associated with the ageing pool complex at Coonabarabran, endorsing a funding and suggestion brief provided by Narda Abel, community development coordinator with 2357 Partnerships.
Mr Hunter cited safety issues, mobility access and pool length as some of the negative aspects of the current pool.
“I think there is a considerable safety issue with the water height in regard to pool edge height,” Mr Hunter said.
“The drop off from the edge to the water makes it difficult for parents to maintain constant supervision when the height of the pool edge obstructs their line of sight to their children and others.”
He said he was also concerned from a rescue perspective, saying it would be “near impossible” to remove an injured or unconscious person from the side of the pool.
As a member of the local Health Council and citing the recent Healthy Town Challenge, Mr Hunter said he could also envision the positive flow-on effect in improving the health of the community if people were able to access a modern, inclusive swimming facility.
“I believe that by upgrading the pool we can continue on with that momentum of a community working towards improving their health,” he said.
“By improving the facility we can make it more accessible, safer and appealing to people of all abilities.
“Let’s get behind this and make the Coonabarabran Swimming Pool complex a better facility that we can be proud of.”
Mr Hunter said he was requesting Council make the pool complex a top- priority infrastructure d e v e l o p m e n t f o r Coonabarabran and consider the establishment of a Swimming Pool Advisory Committee consisting of multiple user groups and Shire councillors to have the project “shovel ready” for the large Regional Infrastructure funding available in 2018.
Mr Hunter’s proposal was endorsed by Mrs Fay Chapman, on behalf of aqua fitness, and Mr Mathew Rouse, physiotherapist - who believed Coonabarabran could become a central hub for hydroptherapy if pool improvements were made.
Mr Kevin Tighe, director technical services, responded on behalf of Council, saying the pool was on Council’s priority list.
He said it was an expensive piece of infrastructure and, to progress, needed community support and required Council to form committees as most projects need to be “shovel ready”.
Ms Ryan asked for Mr Hunter and associates to submit a proposal to Council.
Ms Allison Reynolds was also asked to submit a strategy to Council after she spoke on the need to increase cultural tourism in the town.
“It is sad that Coonabarabran has so little in the way of public art,” Ms Reynolds said.
“Cultural tourism is active in other creative communities, and other councils have an arts/ cultural officer.
“We need clear direction from Council and I’m asking them to commit to creating an arts creative strategy.”
Ms Reynolds also spoke on the issue of disability services and access in the community and said Coonabarabran could establish itself as a inclusive and accessible place for tourists.
“We need to push Council to develop a plan on how we can move forward and make this place accessible for travellers,” she said.
The issues of Council’s encouragement of new business, plus reasonable time frames for Council to respond or act on enquiries and complaints were raised by Ms Michelle Saunders.
Ms Saunders cited the numerous problems she encountered when dealing with Council, both when setting up a new business and with personal property matters.
“The experience was incredibly fractured without any structure - it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. We felt totally messed around, and after multiple visits to the council where two or three different lots of incorrect paperwork were given to us and weeks of misinformation, we were becoming exhausted with the actual process of dealing with the Council, and losing enthusiasm to even keep the shop in Coonabarabran,” she said.
“The goal posts kept on changing, no one seemed to know what they were doing, any interaction we did have was negative and dismissive, and we couldn’t get anyone from that department to answer a phone call or email - ever. And we were paying rent on an empty shop. Most people setting up businesses around here are doing it on a shoe string so every cent matters.
“Zero response, zero accountability. Any business owner in this town will tell you the same story. I’ve heard it over and over for 15 years.”
Ms Saunders said Council had a major service responsibility to respond to existing and prospective businesses in the most professional and timely manner.
“It needs to be made a huge priority, as people setting up businesses need to spend their energy and time on their business, not trying to navigate through Council departments and processes,” she said.
Ms Saunders said she had also contacted Council six times in the past 18 months, providing video footage, photographs and a detailed summary on an issue she said had been ongoing for 10 years at her Coonabarabran property.
“I would now request that the Warrumbungle Shire Council, effective immediately, structure a totally transparent and adequate process for all submissions to the Council where all people are responded to within a decent time frame in line with the other government agencies and councils. Other Shires are so much more efficient,” she said.
“And for the Warrumbungle Shire Council to make their processes and service standards public via their Facebook page, website, and public notices - that way, this shire is held to some kind of service standard when dealing with the general public.”
Mr Michael Wood, of the Matthew Flinders Motel, asked for assurance that concerns raised from the meeting would not get “buried”.
“What will you do to see these processes are followed, not buried? We want the answers, we don’t want it white washed,” Mr Wood said.
Mr Michael Jones, director corporate and community services, said minutes were being taken from the consultation meeting and would be tabled to Council. He also promised to speak to his managers to work on a plan to review and check processes on improving services.
“We all understand there are laws, rules and regulations that need to be adhered to, but it’s up to the salaried employees of the Council to know these and to be able to administer them properly and respectfully within a decent response time frame so as not to hinder progress in the town,” Ms Saunders said.
“Other councils do it, why can’t this one?
“Wouldn’t it be nice if the vision of the Warrumbungle Shire Council was “we are here to serve and help our Shire citizens any way we can” - just like other councils.”