It all had the air of the first day at school.
Keen to see the old familiar faces, but keener still to check out the new kids. Then there's that first step into the classroom proper, seeing the "new" teacher in action for the first time. Followed by where's so-and-so sitting? And that prevailing sense that while so much was the same, it was all slightly different.
The first inkling of that came immediately after walking in to council. I was late. For once I won't take all the blame. New days indeed. The meeting was moved to 9o'clock rather than the usual 9.30a.m. Things to do and to get done? Goondiwindi Regional Mayor, Cr Lawrence Springborg had hinted a week before in a passing, while meetings may not be quite military in execution, there was little chance of them meandering into a miasma of councillor navel-gazing. And he was right.
Possibly the apparition of his predecessor, former stock agent and auctioneer, Graeme Scheu hung in the air, whispering through the corridors; it wasn't hard to imagine, as the imaginary gavel came down on the meeting, an echo... "Are we done? (Yes we are) ....No more bids anyone? ....Final chance? Then we are, most certainly DONE!". Out the door, 10.20something a.m. Contemplating an early lunch. Thinking the OK Milk Bar" across the road looked good and could I sneak in a bacon and cheese hot-dog before a prior lunch engagement with the chief home dietician and medical officer.
So what was achieved? Plenty. In summary. Council is looking at a joint-venture partnership to locate a "One Basin Co-operative Research Centre Northern Hub in Goondiwindi. The CRC's aim is to use science to make the most informed decisions concerning management of the Murray-Darling Basin and to come up with "innovative solutions" supporting regional development. It also has the prospect of double-digit employment for Goondiwindi. A "wonderful opportunity" according to the Mayor.
There was discussion about the Goondiwindi Show holiday and whether Texas residents would prefer to have their show holiday for the Brisbane EKKA, which has been traditionally the case, or the Friday of the Goondiwindi Show. To be investigated and discussed with the Texas show society and wider community; Council agreed to give the Texas Tennis Club $20,000 to assist in the all-weather resurfacing of its tennis courts. The grant is dependent on the club receiving external funding to complete the project estimated to cost $150,000.
A number of community groups have been given a concession on general rates due to the on-going impact of drought and COVID-19. Those groups are Goondiwindi Performing Arts, Goondiwindi Golf Club, Inglewood Bowls Club, Texas Masonic Lodge Greenup, Texas and District Memorial Bowls Club, Texas Golf Club and the Inglewood Golf Club. Council is to investigate "current or looming" issues with Toobeah's wastewater and its disposal. It caused the most debate of the morning. It was proposed to conduct roadside inspections of properties. Debate ranged predominantly about what would be achieved by the inspections and, cost. "What are we going to recommend (once the inspections are done)?" Cr Rick Kearney said. "Build a $25million sewage treatment facility? I don't think so." Earlier he had said the inspections would be a "waste of energy, resources and particularly money". He argued the treatment and disposal of "wastewater" was the responsibility of property owners. As has been historically the case. "It's their wastewater, I just don't think we should be involved," he said. He also maintained it was not a major issue for most residents telling council complaints mainly came from "only one person".
And the arguments for inspections? Cr Susie Kelly believed it was a "small thing" for Council to investigate the matter "for all those residents out there, to try and help make their progression and opportunities better." It was a point picked up by Cr Rob Mackenzie. "Sewerage systems got put into towns to help them grow, to be healthy and economically sustainable..."I worry what will happen to these little towns if we don't encourage people to invest in them," he said.
I worry what will happen to these little towns if we don't encourage people to invest in themGRC Deputy-Mayor, Cr Rob Mackenzie
If they aren't supported to build a "spare bedroom for their kids" or an "ensuite" they will be forced to move into bigger centres such as Goondiwindi. He said in some instances the carting of wastewater was "equivalent to a small mortgage". "We want something sustainable for our smaller communities and we need to do what we can to support them." Shortly after Cr Kearney made his comment about the "$25million" treatment facility. And in between? Enter Cr Springborg. He said debate had raised questions of investment such as sewage treatments works which could come at an "extraordinary costs". "(But) before we get to what we want to do we need to understand what we actually dealing with." He said an "external credible" review of Toobeah's wastewater situation would enable Council to say, "this is what we have. This is what we don't". "I hope that cost could be as little as $5000 and I know that we have to be very careful with people's (ratepayers') money." He then asked for a vote. Cr Kearney opposed the review.
And finally, a thank you from The Argus to councillors who welcomed us back into the fray last week after we were forced to close down due to COVID-19. We truly appreciated the sentiment. We just can't promise our presence will always be welcomed with such warmth. It is early in the 'school' year after-all.