Now that the long-touted merger between Maitland City Council and Dungog Shire Council is off the table, we are beginning to get a clearer picture of what the future looks like in this city.
As government delegate Dr Ian Tiley considered the merger case for Maitland and Dungog – before the state government’s backflip on regional and rural council amalgamations – he also made some recommendations on what a future Maitland City Council might look like.
Dr Tiley suggested that Maitland continues to elect its mayor by popular vote, but he recommended reducing the number of councillors from 13 to nine.
Not only this, but he also recommended that the city abandon the ward system, which currently means three councillors are elected to one of four divisions of Maitland – north ward, central ward, east ward and west ward.
It’s an interesting idea, though not a new one. Cr Steve Procter (pictured), who raised the issue about three years ago, urged councillors to consider the idea again at this week’s council meeting during a public discussion about Dr Tiley’s findings.
“Some consideration needs to be given in the near future to a restructure,” Cr Procter said in the chamber on Tuesday night.
“Should we be made up of wards? What should the number of councillors be? The time has come where we should be looking at the size of Maitland City Council.”
These are all worthwhile questions. Having council wards means residents know there are certain elected representatives who live in their neighbourhood – or close by – who they can contact when they have an issue to raise. There are obvious advantages to this system. But removing council wards and reducing the number of councillors means less cost for the council.
It also means, theoretically, there would be a choice of nine elected representatives to take up your cause if need be, rather than the three elected to your ward.
Cr Arch Humphery’s call to review council boundaries also makes sense. While critics of boundary changes might argue such a change would be too hard, it can’t hurt to simply look at the options.
With a local government election scheduled for later this year, it’s unlikely that any change would take effect this time around.
But it’s a worthwhile discussion to have now so the right decision can be made for the future.