The council will throw open a Mayoral drought relief fund for community donations and encourage its neighbours to hop on board.
Councillors at Tuesday night’s meeting agreed to establish the fund, kicked off with a $10,000 council donation. Mayor Bob Kirk will also talk to his Upper Lachlan and Yass Valley Shire counterparts about joining the campaign.
The money will be used to help drought affected families with groceries and essential services. Cr Kirk will work with the councils and a yet to identified lead agency to distribute the funds and determine eligibility. This will give preference to the Tablelands area covered by the councils.
The initiative followed community and councillor representations but also the Mayor’s thoughts.
“The current drought is very significant and will have the same disastrous affect on livelihoods of families as other natural disasters,” he wrote in his Mayoral minute.
He initially suggested the fund be restricted to Goulburn Mulwaree but Cr Andrew Banfield argued it should be widened.
“Some parts of the state are far worse than us and they’ve been assisted by hay runs,” he said.
“At the moment our region is on the brink of disaster and I suggest by the end of summer we’ll be in the same position as people out west...We need to preempt that and look at where we’ll be at at the end of the year. I think we’ll be in dire straits.
“We need to work with Upper Lachlan and Yass Valley, look to our region and fill our pantry.”
Cr Banfield predicted interstate hay would run out in six months if the drought continued and farmers would be forking out big money for overseas fodder. But it was also essential to support producers’ mental health, especially given the high rural suicide rate.
“It’s the tip of the iceberg where we go with this,” he said.
Cr Denzil Sturgiss said the region was “a long way better off than most areas” but the fund had to look after our own people first. He asked whether the council could consider a rate cut to assist farmers.
General manager Warwick Bennett replied that councillors would have to decide this but currently the council was sitting on a ‘sustainable’ financial rating. Any drop in income would reduce the works program.
Cr Leah Ferrara argued that while everyone was focusing on farmers’ plight, animal sanctuaries were forgotten.
“I know of two animal sanctuaries in the area also doing it tough and they’re being neglected so I ask you to please take them into consideration,” she said.
Cr Peter Walker also believed money raised by individual councils should be spent in those areas but wider aspects, such as mental health support, could be broadly applied.
Cr Margaret O’Neill challenged councillors and senior staff to reach into their own pockets and donate $100 each.
Cr Kirk will keep councillors advised on the fund’s distribution.
Meantime, the community can donate at the council’s customer service at the Civic Centre in Bourke Street.
On another front, Goulburn CWA Evening Branch voted on Thursday to donate $1000 to the Buy a Bale drought support campaign.
“Country people and farmers around here have their own plight and we wanted to do something to help,” publicity officer Fay Peden said.
“We throw the challenge out for other local organisations to also help,” she said.
At Bunning Goulburn on Friday, hundreds lined up at a barbecue also raising money for farmers.
Allens First Aid is also running a free first aid course for 60 people and will donate $1000 to drought support at the same time.