MAYOR Monica Morse was forced to use her casting vote on Wednesday night to ensure Bathurst Regional Council donated $5000 to the Warrum-bungle Shire Bushfire Appeal.
And the issue again highlighted a continuing split on council, with the final show of hands again reflecting the five-four vote that handed the mayoral reins to Cr Morse last September.
Cr Morse had proposed that the money be donated to support bushfire-affected properties around Coonabarabran as part of a regional appeal set up by councillors Bobby Bourke and Ian North.
Cr Bourke spoke in support of the plan, saying Bathurst Regional Council had previously given money to areas such as Molong, Toowoomba and Ohkuma when natural disasters had struck.
“I would like to support the mayoral minute and also acknowledge the hard work of a group of volunteers keeping the appeal running,” he said.
“We have so far raised over $20,000 in goods and donations, which the Lions Club of Bathurst will distribute up there later on.”
But both Cr Michael Coote and Cr Warren Aubin stood to speak against the plan, saying council should not be using ratepayers’ money to support charities.
Cr Coote said he had personally contributed to the Warrumbungles appeal but did not believe councillors should be committing other people’s money to the cause.
“The problem I have, to start with, is that there is no money in our Section 356 and BMEC funds, and just $457 left in the Mount Panorama fund, so where is the money going to come from,” he said.
After being advised any donation would have to come from equity, Cr Coote continued to outline his case against the proposal.
“I have conducted a little survey myself through my Facebook page, people that come into the shop and people on the street, and their concerns are that this is ratepayers’ money and not councillors’ money,” he said.
Cr Coote said many Bathurst people had lost orchards to storms in recent years, had crops destroyed by flood and endured terrible droughts in the 1980s without receiving support from the local council.
“But we seem to be very quick to send money to other areas,” he said.
“We can’t keep taking money out of equity, though. I don’t mean to be hard and not help out, but when there’s no money there’s no money.”
Cr Aubin agreed, saying Bathurst people were already supporting bushfire-affected areas through their support of the appeal.
“I don’t want to be seen as cold or heartless, but council should not be seen as a charitable organisation,” he said.
Councillors North, Bourke, Jess Jennings and Graeme Hanger voted to approve the $5000 donation while councillors Coote, Aubin, Greg Westman and Gary Rush voted against, making a four-four split before Cr Morse cast her deciding vote.