MONEY and roads are seen as key issues by candidates in the byelection to represent Watson Ward on Mornington Peninsula Shire.
The ward has been without a councillor since last year when then councillor Paul Mercurio announced he was standing as Labor’s candidate for the seat of Hastings in the November state election.
Mercurio won the seat held for the previous 16 years by Liberal Neale Burgess and resigned from council in December.
Six candidates, including two former councillors and two previous unsuccessful candidates, are seeking to replace Mercurio on the council.
The byelection is being conducted by post, with the Victorian Electoral Commission this week mailing out ballot packs to eligible voters.
The packs include the reply-paid envelopes but can also be handed in to the election office at 21 High Street, Hastings until voting closes at 6pm on Friday 17 March. Office hours are from 9am to 5pm, with extended hours on Thursday 16 March (9am to 8pm) and Friday 17 March (9am to 6pm).
The six candidates, in the order they appear on the ballot paper, are Stefan Borzecki, Michael Stephens, Rob Clarke, Ben Loois, Susie Beveridge and Kate Roper.
Stefan Borzecki was “happy” to again seek election and, as a retiree, was “not seeking a further political career”.
“I would just like to see the shire provide more direct services and resources into the local community,” he said.
Borzecki saw the shire’s major issue as one of reigning in constant debt.
Debt should be reduced to a level of being “economically as well as socially sustainable”.
Job opportunities could be created by releasing unused industrial land and “opening up other areas such as the coastal trail that is currently a derelict ex-fire trail”.
“From decades of regular interaction and dealings with the shire I’m aware as a ratepayer how urgently council needs to change the shire’s negative culture and review any unsustainable business management, operations, spending priorities and debt levels,” the developer of Yaringa Boat Harbour said.
Borzecki said he wanted the shire to freeze rates “for an extended period” and operate in a “sustainable, and cost-effective manner”.
Michael Stephens believes the representation of Watson Ward on the council could be improved “by genuine community consultation, polling, town hall meetings, social media forums, and increased voter opportunities to have their voices heard”.
The main concerns of ward residents were roads (maintenance, traffic jams and increased truck traffic); young sporting team members joining teams outside the ward because of a lack of facilities; and, the need for council to improve its support of small businesses.
Rob Clarke said his main reason for seeking election stemmed from “a desire to make the lives of the folk who live in the Watson Ward better than it is now”.
“There is no axe to grind, there is no political organisation driving me, there is no hidden agenda, nor any commercial goal attached to my desire to serve the people of Watson Ward.”
Changes Clarke wants to see range from banning heavy vehicles being driven through Tyabb and Somerville to improving “non-car transport infrastructure” which would allow children to walk or ride to school and “older folk … drive their buggies to the shops without fear of being run over”.
A retired electrical engineer and planner, Clarke says he would push for wind turbines to be built at Hastings, supported by port infrastructure that would it easy take to be installed offshore.
Such a project would provide employment and “address the energy needs of the state”.
“This can be the start of a rejuvenated place to live, a place which was once financially fuelled by apples can be both independent and dynamic with the introduction of new wealth generating ventures.”
Ben Loois wants to make sure rate income is spent on issues of direct concern to ratepayers, such as maintaining roads, reducing fire hazards, cleaning streets and unblocking drains that can cause flooding.
He says rate income is being used to contest decision by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and in costly legal battles against residents and businesses that should have been resolved “in-house”.
“And [councillors] are making local laws designed to limit ratepayers’ rights,” Loois said.
Now retired, Loois is a former builder with “a sound knowledge of planning and building” and has lived in Tyabb for the past 30 years.
Former councillor Kate Roper said, “family and friends” living in Watson Ward were “disappointed by no representation for eight months”.
“They know the work I have done in Hastings and the projects I initiated and finished there and would like me to apply my skills to getting results for Watson Ward,” she said.
“The major issue facing the shire is the poor culture and lack of community satisfaction with the shire’s performance, according to the 2022 customer satisfaction survey.
“The competing demands on the budget should align with priorities of the rate paying population and council decisions should reflect this.”
The sixth candidate, Susie Beveridge, also a former councillor, did not respond to questions from The News.
Beveridge posted on Mercurio’s Facebook page that the state government’s $9 billion commitment to kindergarten programs and his visit to Wonnai Pre-School alongside the premier Daniel Andrews was “Wonderful news for parents with kinder age children. Great to see you making a positive impact already Paul Mercurio MP lots of smiles there”.
After Mercurio’s first speech to parliament on 9 February Beveridge posted: “Fabulous speech Paul Mercurio MP, very relatable, very human, very humble, very heartfelt. We are looking forward to seeing how much we can all achieve together. Westernport [sic] rocks.”