Mayor Val Schier will help the former Douglas shire break away from Cairns if re-elected, but not if the move sparks the huge rate rises seen in other de-amalgamated councils.
Going into amalgamation in 2007, Douglas Shire Council had an operating revenue of $25 million, and assets of $205 million.
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Cr Schier has promised to work closely with the new LNP Government, which will soon appoint a boundary commissioner to assess whether splitting the council is what residents want.
Under the LNP’s plan to give merged communities a choice about seceding, it would be up to the ratepayers to bear the cost of breaking away, which could force a rates blowout.
In the year after the Delatite Shire was de-amalgamated in country Victoria, ratepayers in the two new local government areas copped rate hikes of 37.8 per cent and 33.2 per cent, compared with the 5 per cent proposed before they split.
The LNP’s boundary commissioner – to be appointed in the next 100 days – will work out how much it would cost to split Cairns and Douglas, and whether they would be financially viable on their own. Local advocacy group Friends of Douglas Shire estimates it would cost $3 million to re-establish the old council.
Cr Schier insists the communities should know of all the impacts of de-amalgamation before they ask the State Government to make it happen. She said the inaugural Cairns Regional Council had worked hard to make amalgamation successful, but acknowledged the strong push from Douglas residents to reclaim their own council. "As hard as we’ve tried, we’re still not meeting the aspirations of the Douglas people," she said, referring to the vocal opposition to chlorinated water and the Port Douglas waterfront lagoon. "It’s a special place and maybe the best thing is that they have their council back."
The push to de-amalgamate has reignited since Cairns Regional Council cut down century-old coconut palms from an iconic stretch of Four Mile Beach this month. Area councillor Julia Leu, who was the CEO of Douglas Shire Council at the time of amalgamation, said the latest saga signified the disparity between Cairns and Douglas. "This is exactly what we feared going into amalgamation – we didn’t want to become a suburb of Cairns and we didn’t want one-size-fits-all solutions," Cr Leu said. "But the most important thing is making sure we have all the facts and all the information to make a truly accurate decision about de-amalgamating."
Friends of Douglas Shire spokesman Robert Hanan said the group had lobbied the LNP to make de-amalgamation a priority in its 100-day action plan, and now they want commitments from other mayoral candidates. "It’s fabulous news that Val is supporting us, and we’ll be seeking the opinion of the other candidates," he said.
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