The 4 December NSW local government elections will see a changing of the guard at Yass Valley Council, with only four of the current nine councillors expected to stand again and Mayor Rowena Abbey moving on after nine years in the top job.
Jasmin Jones, Mike Reid, Cecil Burgess and Kim Turner are the four hoping to return to the council chambers, while former councillor Allan McGrath is seeking to make a comeback.
The long-standing issue likely to dominate debate in the council campaign is the quality of the town’s water.
Despite a firm commitment from Member for Goulburn Wendy Tuckerman throughout her election campaign, the palatability of the water in Yass remains well under generally-accepted standards. While the water is considered safe for human consumption, its taste and colour is affected by water hardness, dissolved solids and high organic matter.
A $33 million project is in the works to upgrade the Yass Water Treatment Plant and if left unsubsidised by state and federal governments, the project will cost the ratepayer a further $260 a year in a local government area that already holds claim to some of the most expensive water bills in NSW due to the raising of the dam wall in 2013.
The new council will face a number of significant challenges regarding water quality.
First, it will need to put pressure on the other tiers of government to provide funding that will cover, or at the very least heavily subsidise the potential increase in water bills, and the second challenge will arise if significant funding is unable to be secured and that will be to determine whether the project should go ahead at a large cost to the ratepayer.
Even with the upgraded water treatment plant, there is a belief within council that it still wouldn’t guarantee the water issues would be fully resolved.
Another factor to consider is the two-way capability of the new Yass-Murrumbateman pipeline, which has been flagged as a potential path of bringing water from Canberra to the Yass Valley.
Many view this as the most likely and affordable way to fix the region’s water issues.
Another central issue that has become somewhat of a popular movement in the online community of Yass, is the mission to see its main street improved.
Comur Street has a number of spectacular buildings, but there are areas that many in the community believe are in need of an urgent makeover.
Uneven footpaths and ageing outdoor furniture are smaller issues, but particularly of note is the current state of the Memorial Hall and the Yass Courthouse.
Members of the community were particularly disappointed when the council missed out on the Your High Street grants this year, for not coming up with a plan that responded to the criteria of the grants.
Other issues include revitalising the local economy, the Crago Mill Precinct project fixing rural roads, securing recreation for Murrumbateman, dealing with rapid levels of development and providing more affordable housing options for young and old.
Outgoing Mayor Rowena Abbey identified securing additional funding for the water treatment plant and the Barton Highway as the major priorities of the next group at the council.
“Those two things seem to be at the top of our pop – have been in the past and still are. They’re big issues and they will be game-changers for our community when they’re completed. It will change the look and feel of this place as well,” said Cr Abbey.
She also mentioned the “development push” the region has experienced in her time as mayor, stating her belief that you must accept that further development is coming and work on management of the impacts of that development.
Cr Abbey said the review of council’s community strategic plan is an important part of setting the direction for the group over the term.
Comparing her two terms as mayor, Cr Abbey said the second group were far better at setting aside their differences and therefore were able to keep a healthy working relationship which enabled them to achieve their goals.
The difference in both council groups leads to her “strongest piece of advice” for new councillors.
“You may not always agree on things, but you have to work together and if you can’t find a way to work together, you’ll get nothing done,” she said.
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