Struggles not ending any time soon
THREE years down the amalgamation line, the dust should just be settling and life should be a little more comfortable for the people working for the Fraser Coast council.
That will be April 2011. That will also be the month the State Government’s job guarantee for former staff of the old Woocoo, Tiaro, Maryborough and Hervey Bay councils crosses its finish line.
Deep down inside, Fraser Coast councillor Barb Hovard is worried about that date and how the lives of the 650 staff could be affected, again.
“My concern is everybody might just get comfortable and then at the end of the three years there may be another upheaval,” the former Maryborough mayor says.
“Will we be able to keep all those staff? What will happen then? I look at some good staff. They’re just doing this job because they’re on staff. But there’s not really a job there, maybe. So you think this pain isn’t over yet.”
In the same breath she commends the State Government for securing those jobs at amalgamation’s outset, while also wondering if the government thought it all through. “Will council be able to sustain all those jobs? I don’t know.”
Ms Hovard, who holds the regional council’s business development portfolio, is acutely aware of amalgamation’s impact.
“I’ve seen little changes of departments and I’ve seen the angst, the stress and the emotional turmoil it caused people. And it wasn’t anywhere near the scale of this.”
She believes the situation is slowly getting better but it remains a challenge. Challenge, by the way, is a word that features prominently in our discussion of life as a regional councillor.
“My hopes were it wouldn’t be too difficult to start but it has been extremely difficult to start. Change of any kind is difficult but of this magnitude, it’s been very tumultuous.”
What’s best for Maaroom is not necessarily what Burrum Heads needs and in either case a regional balance has to be struck. Challenging.
Remaining an advocate for her beloved Maryborough while developing a genuine appreciation of Hervey Bay’s want has been a challenge.
“Trying and still trying to get councillors from the various areas thinking regionally. While the local knowledge has been so useful, sometimes it might get in the way.
“I think bringing the four areas together, on the political side as well as the staffing side, has been a challenge.
“Maybe some staff not understanding the outer areas.”
Perhaps most challenging of all has been the strain on the council’s coffers.
“Everybody seems to think that once you’re at a regional council, there is so much more money in the pot to spend. In fact there’s a lot less because amalgamation cost so much.
“Aligning up the rates. We only used to rate Maryborough people half-yearly so they only had to pay half a year’s rates at a time. Things like that had to go.”
She has tried to remain effective as a public representative, although she openly concedes that a fixation on local government legislation has perhaps eroded the effective enthusiasm of her early council days.
“There is no doubt you don’t get on council to become popular. Every time you make a decision you put offside a certain section of the community. People who used to be my friends now don’t talk, people with developments affected by decisions council has made.
“But you just have to do your best, thinking of the community as a whole.”
To date, as a regional councillor, she believes her industry in this respect is worthy of a six out of 10 mark.
She won’t be back for another stint. She signalled her intention to stay for just one term at an early stage and that won’t be changing.
“I hope someone who really cares about the community puts their hand up and gets in rather than someone who just wants to progress their political career from local to state.”