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War of words erupts between councillors

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A stoush has erupted between Newcastle Deputy Lord Mayor Declan Clausen and Independent Councillor John Church over council’s financial state following COVID-19.

Cr Clausen sent an email to the media yesterday, accusing Newcastle Independent Councillors of issuing a proposal to slash the City of Newcastle’s capital works program, threatening hundreds of council jobs in order to prevent a short-term budget deficit.

He said, when considering the revised 2019-20 budget at last week’s council meeting, Cr Church proposed that the city’s capital infrastructure works program be delayed or cancelled in order to prevent an on-paper deficit of $8.3 million at the end of the financial year.

“On a whim Cr Church proposed to stand down all employees working on delivering our infrastructure program in order to avoid a temporary COVID-driven budget deficit, threatening hundreds of jobs at the City of Newcastle and many more across our supply chain,” Cr Clausen said.

“Had his plan been adopted, hundreds of City of Newcastle employees working on infrastructure projects would have been sent home, joining the 18,000 people across the Hunter who have lost work as a result of COVID-19. Even worse, council staff are not eligible for JobKeeper payments.”

Cr Church fired back, telling Newcastle Weekly Cr Clausen is “making things up”.

“There has never been any suggestion that capital works be slashed,” he said.

“I have never proposed that employees be stood down. Cr Clausen is imagining things that were never said.

“Misquoting and taking comments out of context shows immaturity and ignorance. This raises questions about his suitability for public office.”

Cr Church admitted he did suggest non-essential capital works be deferred, saying council should explore all opportunities to save money.

“Suggesting that council should find ways to live within its means while faced with falling revenues should be uncontroversial,” he said.

“Ratepayers expect us to spend their money wisely.”

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