Q&A: Mayor Lara Symkowiak looks to 2016

As the new year gets underway and Camden residents look forward to a happy and prosperous 2016, reporter Martin Walsh asked Camden mayor Lara Symkowiak her thoughts on the year ahead, and the year that was.

What would you consider to be Camden achievements from the last year (2015)? 

Camden Council was assessed as “Fit for the Future”. Only nine out of 38 Sydney Metropolitan Councils were assessed as ‘fit.

Also, maintaining a strong financial position with a balanced budget, public open space improvements with higher quality plantings and more frequent mowing, significant upgrades to a number of playgrounds across the LGA, a new council app making it easier for our residents to communicate with us and the Mount Annan expansion designs and development application were approved. 

We’ve had fast development application processing times - single dwellings are being assessed on average within 39 days, designs completed for the Birriwa Outdoor Youth Space at Mount Annan, and Camden Town Centre enhancement works commenced to refresh and improve Argyle Street with basic infrastructure upgrades (including council securing $1.95 million in Federal funding towards the project).

We had high calibre expressions of interest received for the lease of council buildings once we move our head office to Oran Park. Council has entered into lease negotiations for medical centres in our Camden and Narellan offices and will  further investigate a proposal for an art gallery in the historic building “Macaria” on John Street in Camden.

Lastly, council implemented a customer service strategy and charter that has made significant improvements to customer service and technology, including the introduction of a new telephone system and a customer contact centre to ensure enquiries are resolved faster.

This has already resulted in some great customer feedback.

What were some of the challenges Camden council faced in 2015? How did the council overcome them? 

The main challenges faced in 2015 were associated with managing large scale growth. We are the fastest growing Council in NSW, with currently around 500 new residents per month moving into our LGA. The big challenge for council is to provide high quality facilities and services for our current residents but also plan and cater for our new and future residents.

Through prudent management and investment of ratepayer’s money, council is in a strong financial position to meet the challenges posed by large scale growth. A number of significant savings have been made over the last couple of years, not through cutting any services but finding better value for money with external third parties council deals with.

Council has met some of these growth challenges through better use of technology both for our residents and staff, moving towards a paperless office to enhance efficiency and accountability, improving staff training and support and an organisational improvement to identify ways to improve processes and make doing business with council quicker and easier. 

The population in the Camden LGA has boomed in the past 12 months. How will the Council look to integrate new residents and promote existing elements of Camden's identity?

Camden is the fastest growing LGA in NSW and Council has strategies and initiatives in place to help ensure that our residents feel connected, supported and that they belong to our community 

We have a welcome pack available to new residents and will soon expand our ‘Good Neighbour’ initiative to help ensure new residents have a positive transition into our community

We've implimented a comprehensive annual events program to foster connection and celebration through events such as Australia Day, the Camden Festival and the Narellan Rhythms Festival which celebrates our cultural diversity

New and existing community groups can access financial assistance through the Community Small Grants program to support them in the delivery of a range of community projects and services.  Recently, the newly formed Gregory Hills Probus Club and Macarthur Chinese Services received funding through this program.

Support of the development of youth services and activities across the LGA and an award-winning Youth Week program

Development of an Active Ageing Strategy and engaging the community and stakeholders in planning for the needs of the LGA’s ageing population

We are strongly committed to supporting small business and economic growth. We have made fantastic progress with the ground-breaking Small Business Friendly Councils Program, support and promote an annual Business Month program and last year, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Western Sydney University to work towards the future establishment of a LAUNCH PAD Smart Business Centre in Oran Park. By generating investment and interest in our region, we are helping to secure more employment opportunities for residents

Promotion of Camden as a great place to live, work and play that offers the ‘best of both worlds’. We proudly recognise our unique history and celebrate this through events such as History Week, and through ongoing support of community projects and programs that commemorate our past.

Council has adopted a Vision for the Camden Town Centre and has appointed a Town Centre Coordinator. These initiatives will help to guide the future of such an important part of our LGA as we grow and ensure that it is a distinct, prosperous, vibrant and accessible town centre for all.

Camden is often referred to as the fastest growing LGA in NSW. What infrastructure and projects are being undertaken this year to address current and future growth of the region? Also, what are the goals the Council would like to accomplish in 2016?  

Our main goal in 2016 is to continue to improve customer service at every interaction. We will continue to make improvements to our technology, staff training and processes so we stand out from our neighbouring councils and be the leader in best practice customer service.

Council is committed to the delivery of a range of major projects in 2016 including the completion of the outdoor youth space at Birriwa Reserve in Mount Annan, commencement of construction of the Narellan Sports Hub, Oxley Street car park and Mount Annan Leisure Centre expansion, completion of the second stage of the Camden Town Centre works on Argyle Street works and amenities block improvements such as the new facility at Nott Oval Narellan.

Also, a smooth transition to our new head office at Oran Park with the vacated buildings at Narellan and Camden being occupied, meaning more services for our residents, particularly in health and medical care, further tourism opportunities, more people accessing the Camden Town Centre and ongoing income for ratepayers.

We are committed to continual improvement of our core services such as footpath and local road maintenance, public open space maintenance (parks, playgrounds etc), waste collection and library and pool services.