Candidate David Graham has been in local government for the past 17 years and says being elected as a councillor is an honour and a commitment to serve your community to the best of your ability.
He said councillors do this through listening, understanding and bringing their specific skills to be part of a team to enhance the long-term accountability and sustainability of the local government area.
Mr Graham was elected to Gundagai Shire Council in 2004, with mayor Abb McAlister, and became his Deputy in 2013.
“During that time, the council continued to work with community and many wonderful projects, and road and bridge upgrades occurred,” Mr Graham said.
“The main street upgrade, funded by a 10 year SRV that finishes in 2025, has assisted in transforming the town infrastructure, businesses and accessibility for all community. At the same time working with staff, plant upgrades and utilisation were improved, and at the time of merger, the council had an up-to-date efficient plant fleet along with excellent plant reserve.
“With the merger in 2016, our community being linked to Cootamundra has caused many social, financial and cultural changes to how the council works. I have worked diligently with other councillors in the current merged council, and since administration many improvements, particularly financial, have been made.
“Being completely honest, the period under administration took total fiscal control away from the community and many unnecessary costs were incurred that has contributed to the current council adopting a SRV of 53.5 per cent over the next four years to stabilise the council’s financial position.”
Mr Graham said the next term of council is important to bring financial stability so that the council lives within its means whilst maintaining the current level of services.
“Our adjoining unmerged councils are all very stable without any SRV which clearly demonstrates that the State Government’s decision in 2016 was ill-founded and a total disaster for current and future ratepayers of our current LGA,” he said.
“My position on demerger is that I would support it 100 per cent.
“If the NSW Government is fair dinkum in their assertion that rural and regional communities matter, then the very least they could do is come down and discuss this mess that they created and which has been detrimental to both communities.
“To think that we will have to undergo another submissions/meeting process with the Boundaries Commission so soon after the last effort without a common sense sit down approach reveals that their interest in rural communities is far less than they maintain it is.
“Both communities would be better off as a standalone council and this message was clearly stated during the Boundaries Commission meetings and juries this year. There have been absolutely nil benefits from the merger, despite the current Deputy Premier, then Minister for Local Government, saying a merger would deliver $3M in cost savings over 20 years, and yet in four years since the merger, the combined council has lost $28M.
“On May, 12, 2016, the same Minister told the mayor and myself that within 14 days everyone in Gundagai would forget about the merger and move on!
“Unfortunately, the decision makers in Macquarie Street do not understand how bush communities work.”
Mr Graham said the major challenges for the new council include:
• Assist the general manager to implement an organisational structure that long term will deliver effective cost savings and serve the needs of the community.
• Target both State and Federal Governments for an increased percentage of funding for State, regional and rural roads. “The current funding model is not keeping pace with the cost increases for construction and the increased demand and usage of this critical infrastructure,” he said.
• Provide land subdivision opportunities to assist in reducing the critical housing shortages.
• Proactively get the State Government to stop or at least reduce cost shifting.
• Work with community groups on Government funded projects to ensure they are completed satisfactorily and in a timely manner, for example, Gundagai Preschool.
• Costing and maintenance of the 50 plus projects completed over the last five years, which is an annual drain of council resources of approximately $40,000 p.a. per project.
• Upgrading rural dirt roads to a sealed status to reduce long term annual maintenance costs.
• Have Cootamundra functioning under one depot.
• Deliver to ratepayers a balanced budget, without special rate rises, but continue to deliver same or better level of services.
• The 2022/2032 community strategic plan is currently being developed and all ratepayers and residents are encouraged to have their input which Mr Graham says is crucial to building a vibrant and robust community, and assist achieving the challenges of the new council.
He said achievements in the LGA over the last four years include:
• Investment in upgrade 28km of water main in Cootamundra, which has improved water quality for residents, but decreased by $100,000 p.a. employment costs due to reduced main breaks.
• Gundagai sewage treatment plant upgrade and the decision to split the contract and utilise local contractors during COVID in 2020, which assisted the town in economic recovery.
• Commitment of AMG to reopen the abattoirs at Cootamundra.
• Completion of Stages 1 and 2 of the Gundagai main street and West Street intersection and commencement of Stage 3.
• Upgrading Cootamundra’s main street.
• Strategic road and bridge upgrades which, long term, improve the safety for all users and improves accessibility for users. Working with the Softwoods Working Group to achieve an additional $3.8M for road infrastructure improvements in the eastern end of the LGA.
Mr Graham has lived at Adjungbilly all his life apart from secondary school, university and six years in accountancy before returning in 1981.
“My father H.L “Bill” Graham was a shire councillor for 21 years, and named this area “God’s own Country”, and my mother Margaret was born and bred in Gundagai,” he said.
“Kate and I have six children, all educated like my eight brothers and sisters and I at the local Bongongo Public School. All students who have attended this school have grown and prospered in their respective careers. It is the hub on which our village community is built. Our grandchildren (sixth generation) now attend the school.
“I established an accountancy practice in Gundagai in 1989 and during the period to 2003 was privileged to meet, assist and work with many outstanding community-minded residents, which assisted me in preparing to become a councillor.
“I congratulate all the candidates for standing for election and wish them all the best.”