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Editorial: The Mayor might be MOVING FORWARD but she is she taking her community with her

There are a plethora of major issues before the Mayor and her Councillors at the moment that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. The region and the country as a whole is hurting with 11% unemployment announced and climbing. Locally we are already above 16% unemployment with much higher figures for underemployment and youth unemployment. Long before the bushfires we were in local recession with more and more shops closing their doors. Things were already grim before the bushfires and then they got worse. The timing of the bushfires over the critical summer trading months brought a massive financial impact to the region, added to by Covid. Many of our local businesses have attempted to soldier on as best they can and as a community we have done what we can to support them with our own diminished incomes. Fortunately there has been a moment of fiscal respite via two $750 payments to the many shire residents supported by Social Security. The Job Keeper and Job Seeker payments are also helping but the crunch will come in six weeks to learn what will happen next. In all we are doing it as best we can but collectively we are doing it hard. What we need is leadership and vision to support the community to recover. From a Federal and State level we are hearing of major injections of funding into infrastructure projects to employ and stimulate. But locally we have no projects that qualify. Yes, we have the Batemans Bay and Nelligen bridges, the Spine Road connection and the Dunns Creek Road upgrade but that is old money which will employ very few of our locals who don't have the skills required of those projects. Our trades might benefit from the proposed new hospital however the evidence is that larger out of town companies win those tenders. The same will apply to the proposed Mackay Park project. Yes, there may be a short term spike as workers move into the area to rent, to eat and to shop but then they move on. And our locals are left out of the loop and remain at square one. Eurobodalla Council has a major role to play in the recovery process as their planning policies, their fees and charges and their procurement practices each plays a vital role in the affordability of the area from both a residential and investment point of view. Knowing they have a responsibility in the recovery of the area they are at the ready to accept any Federal or State handouts to pass on as is required however to date there has been very little evidence of them being proactive in MOVING FORWARD until this week. The ESC has advertised a new position. They are seeking a Manager, Economic Development and Place Activation offering $114K pa. plus a vehicle saying the appointee’s job is to revitalise our depressed town centres by filling empty shops, driving people to town centres, and creating a night economy. The shops were emptying before the bushfires, based primarily on market forces of supply and demand where the demand for goods from traditional shop fronts was waning. Target in Batemans Bay was an example and soon after Harris Scarfe in Moruya came under threat. In Narooma Smyths closed their doors after decades of trading. The cause? Shoppers were going on line for greater choice, for cheaper prices and for convenience of having goods delivered to their door. Adding to the impact of slowing demand was the steady rise in compliances, licences, rates and fees imposed by Council. In the end it was too much for many and the doors began to close. Long before the bushfires. Long before Covid. Now Council proposes to find an expert to fill empty shops and drive people back to town as well as create a night economy saying "The Eurobodalla Shire Council has set itself an exciting and evidence-based strategic direction to grow its economy and drive recovery post the devastating fire season. An exciting part of this economic growth agenda is activation of our town centres by identifying key investment opportunities and renewing retail and visitor precincts." From their own pen Eurobodalla Shire Council says they have "set itself an exciting and evidence-based strategic direction to grow its economy and drive recovery post the devastating fire season." Unfortunately they haven't told the community, nor engaged with the community about this "exciting and evidence-based strategic direction". This week we learnt that the council intended to break its promise to the community and consider leasing the Batemans Bay Community Centre to a third party for two years. With no consultation or warning. We also learnt that they had decided to remove the Batemans Bay boat ramp and replace it with a park. Again with no consultation. All too often, it seems, the Mayor and her council is claiming to be MOVING FORWARD however it is soon revealed they are not including the community in the process and rather than consulting with the community they consider a "conversation" as a one side presentation that announces a decision they have already made behind closed doors. So now we learn that they will be engaging an expert at $104,000 per year with a car thrown in to "identify key investment opportunities and renew retail and visitor precincts." Good luck with that is all we can say if Council fails to leave the community in the dark as it will be the community who will be the ones who invest, will provide the demand of retail and will attend the visitor precincts. And they are going to need expendable funds to do so, which is something we simply don't have.

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