15 May 2023

Cook Shire Council flips on power position

| Sarah Martin
Grant Fagberg speaks at the public meeting he organised on Saturday.

Grant Fagberg speaks at the public meeting he organised on Saturday.

A CONTRITE Cook Shire took just days to reverse a decision that stallholders would no longer get access to power at the local markets after a barrage of complaints.

Council CEO Brian Joiner, mayor Peter Scott, deputy mayor Robyn Holmes and four of the five councillors – Peter Burns, Marilyn Morris, John Dessmann and Ross Logan – fronted up to a public meeting on Saturday as a result of the backlash.

However, most of the tension had been defused a day earlier after the council released a statement saying it was no longer going to remove access to power.

The decision, which went “viral” on Cooktown’s social media pages last week, stunned stallholders and roadside food vendors, who were left contemplating closing their businesses after being notified of the change via letter on May 9, with no previous consultation.

“My wife was crying when she read the letter,” said Grant Fagberg, who with his wife Caritta owns mobile food vans The Food Shed and Cooktown Slushies and Icecreams.

Mr Fagberg said when he bought The Food Shed pizza van earlier this year, he contacted the council’s environmental health staff to ensure that the van could continue to operate as it had with the previous owner.

“When we thought of buying it, we contacted (council’s environmental health officer) and made sure everything was going to remain the same with access to power and where the van was parked before we bought it,” he told Cape York Weekly.

“If they take away our access to power, I’ve got to recover $60,000 that I’ve lost in the past three months because council decided to change their mind.

“If we had been told this would happen, we would never have bought the second business. I don’t understand the logic behind this, and not one word of consultation.”

Cook Shire mayor Peter Scott at Saturday’s public meeting.

The May 9 letter to stallholders and roadside vendors cited ongoing safety concerns as the reason for the power cut.

“To ensure the safety of all, council will be ceasing public access to the reticulated power meter boxes/poles from July 1, 2023, for all market stall holders, roadside vendors and other members of the public,” the letter read.

Mr Fagberg posted the letters on Facebook, with a call for residents and stallholders to attend a meeting on Saturday to advocate for an alternative solution.

Dozens of comments from irate community members and stallholders asked why no consultation had been undertaken and what alternative power source could safely be used at the marketplace, prompting Mr Joiner to apologise and issue a new letter to stallholders and vendors on May 12.

The council also posted its letter on Facebook.

“The proposed changes addressed the issue of power being used without anyone meeting the cost and the work, health (and) safety obligations of the shire,” the letter stated.

“The cost issue was not about the shire making money but ensuring our ratepayers were not subsidising commercial operations.”

The council currently charges powered market stallholders up to $252 per year, however at its April general meeting, councillors approved the 2023-24 fees and charges which explicitly state all Saturday market stall fees do not include use of council power.

There is a fee for three-day council events, which includes access to the council’s power.

At Saturday’s markets, the CEO, mayor and councillors faced a small but vocal crowd at Mr Fagberg’s public meeting.

Councillors took notes while the mayor, deputy mayor and Mr Joiner addressed the crowd and answered questions.

The discussion, skipped from the power issues to a call for a permanent structure to house the markets, removing power points at the waterfront and illegal camping.

Cr Scott called on stallholders and roadside vendors to create a group to bring their issues to the council, with attendees agreeing to the solution.

The meeting broke up after about 40 minutes.

Cape York Weekly

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