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Maitland Mayor takes a swipe at deputy over rates rise debacle

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Ratepayers in the Maitland area have taken to social media, expressing their anger over a rate rise and funds allocated to Maitland Regional Art Gallery under a new plan.

Five Labor councillors and five Liberal councillors voted for the 7.25% increase as part of the Operational Plan 2020/21.

All four Independents voted against the move.

Deputy Mayor Philip Penfold told Newcastle Weekly that, with a lot of residents doing it tough due to COVID-19, Maitland City Council needed to make savings to avoid transferring the costs onto ratepayers.

“At a time of financial crisis in the community following a pandemic, council, like other organisations, needs to look at ways to provide relief in the city,” Cr Penfold said.

“Some services should be looked at as to where we can make savings and the art gallery is one example.”

The plan also outlined that the council spend $32,000 per week to cover the gallery’s operational shortfall.

Following the announcement, residents took to Facebook, with many angry over both the rate rise and the funding for the gallery, calling it “excessive,” “inappropriate” and “disgraceful.”

Some argued that money would be better spent on roads, parks and playgrounds.

“I think the community is shocked to hear the cost that council contributes from their rates to this facility,” Cr Penfold said.

“It’s a great building and service don’t get me wrong, but it’s grown in expense over time and people want to participate in the conversation about where it [money] goes and clearly the community is concerned.”

Mayor Loretta Baker was quick to fire back, saying the rate rise wasn’t new – it was initiated in 2014 as part of the council’s seven-year special rate variation to make council fit for the future and to avoid a merger with Dungog.

She told Newcastle Weekly that Cr Penfold voted for it at the time.

“I’ve tried to keep out of it because it’s grubby, but I have had that many calls,” she said.

“The people caught up in this are very upset and deserve an explanation.

“But they’re not the facts, that’s not what happened.

“It’s easy to convey otherwise but it’s poor form for people in civic positions and leadership positions.

“It’s lacking integrity and that’s his problem not mine.”

Mayor Baker said revenue from the rate rise would go towards the COVID response for hardship initiative for people who can’t afford to pay their rates.

However, she did admit only 22 applications have so far been made for assistance.

“We did not put up rates to support the art gallery,” she said.

“You can’t say the rates are put up to pay for the art gallery when its costs have decreased by about $9,000.

“It’s exhausting and time consuming and I feel really sorry it’s come down to this.

“We should just be telling people how it is, what it is and giving them the facts, not hiding them and delivering a different outcome that isn’t accurate.”

The reaction to the decision has gone as far as some locals declaring they want an election to vote Mayor Baker out.

Council elections have been moved to September 2021 due to COVID-19.

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