De-amalgamation 'mountain to climb'
VOTERS in the old Mareeba and Douglas shires have been told they have a "mountain to climb" if they vote for new councils in the de-amalgamation referendum on March 9, but for many it seems a goal worth toiling for.
Local Government Minister David Crisafulli went on a meet-the-people tour of Mareeba and Port Douglas yesterday to talk about de-amalgamation and was given a lively reception as people showered him with their various viewpoints.
He said while the Boundaries Commissioner and Queensland Treasury Corporation's report showed that both former shires had "a mountain to climb" just to be viable in the long term, "we believe locals should decide if a rates increase is worth it," Mr Crisafulli said.
Among those he spoke to was Irene Shanks of Byblos Bookshop in Mareeba, who told him Mareeba Shire was far too big to have been amalgamated in the first place and did not get the representation its population and money warranted.
"I think it is a mountain worth climbing," said Mrs Shanks, a strong supporter of the split with the Tablelands Regional Council.
She believed there was "propaganda" coming out of the TRC on the cost of de-amalgamation that was designed to scare people into sticking with the status quo.
"(TRC Mayor) Rosa Lee Long is trying to scare people into voting her way," Mrs Shanks said.
Mr Crisafulli also spoke to Colleen Owens, owner of Sewing Essentials on Byrne Street, who voiced a pro-TRC stance.
She said she had taken a straw poll and, like her, most of her clients favoured staying with the TRC.
"I have done my own referendum, talking to my customers and the view so far is that they want to remain part of the TRC," Mrs Owens said.
TRC Mayor Lee Long has consistently said that the figures were prepared by Queensland Treasury Corporation, which had no vested interest in the outcome of the vote. This was echoed by Mr Crisafulli who reconfirmed their accuracy.
The minister said the Boundaries Commissioner had recommended not going to a referendum either in the case of the former Mareeba Shire splitting from the Tablelands Regional Council or the old Douglas Shire separating from Cairns Regional Council.
"But I said all along that if there was a chance that you could create two sustainable councils, I will let the people decide," Mr Crisafulli said.
Long term viability for a new Mareeba shire council has been rated as "unlikely" by Mr Crisafulli and for a new Douglas Shire "highly unlikely". QTC said the cost of de-amalgamation would be $8.2 million in Mareeba's case and $8.15 million for Douglas Shire.
For ratepayers in a new Douglas Shire, that would mean an extra $701 on their rates in the first year followed by $462 thereafter.
In Mareeba's case it would be $872 in the first year and $240 a year in the following years.
Mr Crisafulli refuted claims that the Boundaries Commissioner's reports were flawed.
He said the costs of de-amalgamation had been accurately detailed by QTC.
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Talking point: Irene Shanks talks to MP David Crisafulli about the Tableland de-amalgamation in Mareeba. Picture: BRENDAN FRANCIS