MILDURA Council’s new leadership duo have completed their first week on the job and have outlined their vision for the next 12 months. Top of the list is a closer connection with the community.

Mayor Liam Wood said the community should feel like they have a seat at the table and they are being listened to – and it would start with councillors getting out and about now that COVID-19 restrictions have eased.

“Sometimes you can easily forget that you actually were elected by the people to portray their message,” Cr Wood said.

“There have been instances where people try and portray their own message and I think that’s something that really needs to be re-instilled in council, that we are the voice of the community and we’re there for them.

“I think we do have a really good council that does that, but we haven’t really had a chance to do it.

“It’s just getting out into the community, seeing as many people as possible, going to as many things as possible and just listening.”

Deputy Mayor Cyndi Power said she had sensed some disconnectedness between the community and council.

To address this, she said it was about walking the walk.

“Be down to earth, be real, listen to the people and remember we are elected by them,” Cr Power said.

“Whether we share the same viewpoints or not, as the people that we represent it is our job to listen to them and act on it.”

Asked about what issues he will drive during the next year, Cr Wood nominated returning to some sort of normality and “making sure Mildura is recognised as an epicentre of Victoria”.

He said even though rules had eased, it needed to be remembered how much businesses and families had been affected during the past two years.

“It’s not going to take one weekend of nice weather and a busy cafe,” he said.

“We really need to support them for many months, if not years, to come.”

Cr Power said she had campaigned on women’s health and mental health services and would continue to concentrate on those.

She also said empowering young people who feel disconnected and people who were marginalised would be a focus.

“We don’t usually hear their voices but we also represent them too,” she said.

Councillors this year again voted for the maximum rate increase allowed under Victorian Government rules, with rates bills going up by an average of 1.5 per cent.

Cr Power said councillors were “definitely hearing it” and “not sitting there with our ears plugged at all” on the rates issue.

Cr Wood said they wanted rate increases to be as minimal as possible, if not zero.

“But it comes down to what services does that rate increase allow,” he said.

“The other thing is as simple as showing people, ‘okay, if we do another rate increase, it’s another $1.5 million into the economy and these are the projects that you will get, or if we keep it that way, these are the projects you miss out on’.

“I think that’s really important to know, because there are a lot of essential services that may be cut back in a growing community if the rates don’t keep going up the way they are.

“In saying that there are a million ways to skin a cat and I’ll be working very hard to look at the budget to see if there are any spots we can save money.”

Cr Wood said he was motivated to step up to the mayor role because of his inquisitive nature.

“That was the real drive, to be at the coalface of being at work within council and learning more,” he said.

“Obviously I think I still won’t have learnt half the things I’m supposed to have learnt in four years, but it’s about growing and also being able to know we can change things.”

Cr Wood and Cr Power were elevated to their new roles at last week’s council meeting.

In both votes, councillors were split 5-4 in favour of the new leaders over incumbent mayor Jason Modica and deputy Helen Healy.

Councillors Stefano de Pieri, Glenn Milne and Ian Arney sided with Cr Wood and Cr Power to bring about the changes.

Cr Milne said Cr Wood presented more of a focus on getting Mildura getting going after COVID.

“His pitch and his direction I think fitted more with what I would like see achieved,” Cr Milne said.

“It was between that and I think the business community was certainly looking for some direction and commitment to business.”

Cr de Pieri said in a statement his decision was not political and that he voted for Cr Wood because he wanted as many councillors as possible to get a chance.

By MICHAEL DiFABRIZIO