10 August 2021

Survey reveals increasingly dissatisfied merged mountain community

| Edwina Mason
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Car driving on tree-lined road in Tumut

Recent Snowy Valleys survey respondents felt the town of Tumut (pictured) benefited more from the forced council merger, compared to Tumbarumba. Photo: Supplied.

Up in the mountains of the Snowy Valleys, it must have, at times, felt like they’d been handed all of Revelations’ seven bowls, so mighty have some of the blows been to the communities there in recent years.

But eternal drought, cataclysmic fires and prolonged plague aside, the political tornado of a forced local government merger still strongly underpins unease among residents.

So says the results of a community survey – designed to provide Snowy Valleys Council with a snapshot of community sentiment in relation to the provision of their services and facilities, as well as organisational direction – released last week.

Painted sign protesting Snowy Valleys Council amalgamation

The Snowy Valleys community survey was conducted during a time when the future of the entire local government area sat with NSW Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock. Photo: Save Tumbarumba Shire.

The random telephone survey was conducted between 19 April and 1 May, 2021, and involved interviews with 400 residents across the Snowy Valleys local government area (LGA), an area populated by around 14,500 people incorporating the major towns of Batlow, Adelong, Tumbarumba and Tumut.

The 2021 survey is the second since Tumut and Tumbarumba shires were forcibly amalgamated in 2016, and took place as the community awaited a demerger decision by NSW Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock.

Snowy Valleys Council CEO Matthew Hyde said it is disappointing the overall satisfaction rating for council has dropped since 2018, but it has provided an opportunity for it to review and reflect.

“The results surrounding leadership and future of the organisation had a large impact on that overall score,” he said.

“All surveys are influenced by current events, and the feedback and scoring reflected the heated debate taking place in the community at the time about the lingering Boundaries Commission [NSW Local Government Boundaries Commission] decision and council’s future financial sustainability.”

Council’s libraries, swimming pools, parks and sporting facilities were the highest ranked services, with big improvements seen in satisfaction with the maintenance of unsealed roads, footpaths, emergency and disaster management, water and waste services, and enforcement of pets and stock regulations.

Public swimming pool

Community amenities such as swimming pools, libraries, parks and sporting facilities in Snowy Valleys Council local government area got a big tick of approval from people surveyed this year. Photo: Supplied.

“The consistent ranking of our services between each survey demonstrates the high value the community places on the services council delivers, and the work frontline staff do,” said Mr Hyde.

“But we aren’t shying away from the work we still have to do to improve community sentiment about being a council that is representative of the whole region.”

Mr Hyde said the organisation is tasked with a massive challenge to deliver on the NSW Government’s directive to form a new council.

“Staff have worked hard to deliver to the community regardless of external impacts of bushfires, COVID-19 and community sentiment regarding amalgamation,” he said.

“The priority of council is to work in partnership with the community to be an organisation that it supports and is proud of.”

As the Save Tumbarumba Shire group rails against Minister Hancock’s decision disallowing a demerger, in July 2021, Mr Hyde said council’s eyes are firmly fixed on the future.

“I encourage the community to participate in shaping the future priorities and direction for the next term of council through consultation opportunities, including current consultation on Special Rate Variation options and reviewing the priorities in the Community Strategic Plan,” he said.

NSW local government elections were to be held in September 2021, but due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they have been postponed until 4 December, 2021.

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