Tenterfield Shire Council staff and councillors have been doing the rounds of late, selling their plans and aspirations and gathering community feedback. The hunt for more water, however, will take top priority closely followed by timber bridge repair and replacement, to keep the shire's agricultural interests mobile.
At the Tenterfield School of Arts meeting on Wednesday, June 5 a small crowd listened to senior economic development officer Harry Bolton outline council's achievements and plans on the economic development front.
Achievements included the formation of the Tenterfield Chamber of Tourism, Industry and Business and a variety of business workshops and breakfasts, continued development of the industrial estate, CBD and main street upgrades (including free wifi), and ongoing support of festivals including last year's inaugural Peter Allen Festival.
The creation of the Tenterfield True brand is more evident in markets where the shire is promoted. The instigation of the associated True Local Ambassador program will obviously require local input, but funding needs to be sourced to support it.
Council has also partnered with neighbouring councils to bring in more tourists through promotions like the New England High Country and 'Our Favourite Corner' (targeting motorcyclists), and Mr Bolton said the Gold Coast campaign during the Commonwealth Games was effective.
"It drew in a lot of visitors."
The real estate market is brisk with houses and businesses turning over quickly, and a new tourism website is on the way, promising a lot more interactivity.
With a looming state election and a retiring MP coupled with a close call at the previous ballot, Tenterfield was on the receiving end of a deluge of both state and federal grants, creating a considerable workload in projects for council to carry out.
"There's a lot of grant funding to be resourced over the next 12 months, but the water shortage is impacting on that," Mr Bolton said.
While all the grants have messed with council's own-source income ratio, the benefits are flowing with village upgrades and better access to the far north of the shire thanks to the Mt Lindesay Road work. Mr Bolton is receiving reports of a lot more people using the road, more tourists and a sense of vibrancy, with people talking about opening new businesses like farm stays along its stretch.
Mr Bolton said the ongoing drought will impact the level of support council will be able to provide tourism operators, as well as on its ability to attract new development considering the current water shortage.
"Do we have resources like water to support a major development like meatworks?"
Other challenges to development include the loss of some medical services. Mr Bolton said we may attract tree changers on their retirement at 60 years of age, only to lose them 10-15 years later when they relocate to an area with better medical coverage.
The decline in services is also happening at a time when particularly mental health service demands, especially for youth, are increasing.
Waste is another hurdle, with the community facing a huge waste-related cost of some description in the near future. If alternatives can't be found a new landfill cell will need to be constructed, and there's uncertainty about whether recyclable materials will continue to be taken.
"It's getting to the point where we can't get rid of it," Mr Bolton said.
The decline in volunteering threatens the longevity of important tourist attractions like the Visitor Information Centre, Tenterfield School of Arts, Centenary Cottage and Tenterfield Railway Station.
"If we can't turn this around, these places will cease to operate," he said.
The railway museum has many volunteers with railway backgrounds, but as they age there are no new experienced volunteers to take their place.
The saleyards is a good income-generator, but new ways of selling livestock such as AuctionsPlus are eating into its market share.
The National Monument project has huge development potential for the CBD, and Mr Bolton said there are many niche ideas and interests like photography and birdwatching that people are pursuing, particularly in the Liston and Urbenville areas.
The latter are ideal developments as they are low impact and attract enthusiasts who are happy to spend money on their hobby and on nice food and accommodation during their visit.
Councillor Bob Rogan is driving a new tourism collaboration with north-eastern neighbouring councils called the Northern Tourism Group, to develop ideas for the reach of the shire.
Education tourism is also a developing market which Mr Bolton wants to tap into to, encouraging schools to stay for several days rather than the current one-day road trip.
While Mr Bolton encouraged a positive attitude on Julie Virtue's suggestion that Tenterfield may actually need to de-populate to match its water resources, suggestions from Jane I'Ons included lobbying for composting toilets and funding for rainwater tanks. (Town planner Tamai Davidson advised all new homes require water tanks, but the rule isn't retrospective.)
Vince Sherry feels it's all about behavioural change to use less water and produce less waste, and would like to see Tenterfield take a strong stand like banning single-use plastic. Council is about to take a program into local schools to educate children on water and waste-saving measures, hoping they'll take the message home.
Despite an expansive road network, council has a small, steady rateable base of 4800 properties which doesn't afford it economies of scale. However when it comes to tourism effort we batting above our weight.
Mr Bolton said Tenterfield is more active on weekends than towns of similar size, with more businesses staying open.
"There been a massive improvement in the last few years," he said.
As The Garden Shop's Matt Richardson pointed out, tourism dollars are keeping the town afloat and people should be congratulated for the effort.
"In the next 3-5 years, if we keep the momentum going, we'll be in a good place," Mr Richardson said.
Mayor Peter Petty was very pleased with the positive outcomes of each of the community engagement forums.
"These forums are a litmus test to see how council is going," he said.
"The positive feedback received at all of these meetings, the attendance, and the willingness of the community to engage in a constructive manner is extremely pleasing and I thank councillors and staff for the great work they are doing in making our shire a great place to live and work".