Sheoak Shack at Fingal.
Sheoak Shack at Fingal. John Gass

Businesses say Sheoak Shack got special treatment

TWEED Shire mayor Barry Longland's use of his casting vote to slash by $24,000 the amount of developer contributions to be paid by the sister of Cr Katie Milne has sparked anger and suspicion in the local business community.

On September 19 the long-running saga surrounding compliance issues at Fingal's Sheoak Shack Gallery Cafe came to a head with council voting to cut the amount of contributions for the cafe from the council staff recommended $32,716 to just $8949.

Cr Longland put forward the amended motion proposing the lower contribution and then used his casting vote to break the deadlock with Crs Warren Polglase, Phil Youngblutt and Carolyn Byrne opposing it, arguing it set a dangerous precedent.

Cr Milne, who is the sister of the cafe owner Andrea McKay, left the council chamber during the debate.

"The community's going to say, 'How come you're letting these people off when we have to pay'," Cr Polglase argued at the meeting.

Cr Byrne told the mayor she had "grave concerns with the public perception of your making special dispensation for this business".

But both Cr Longland and deputy mayor Michael Armstrong argued the council staff recommendation for sewer, water and road contributions had been based on a false premise that the cafe would attract increased patronage.

This week Cr Polglase said in his 20 years on council this was the first time he had seen a business get a discount on its council fees.

He said it was a particularly bad look coming in the same meeting that Cr Milne supported Cr Longland to a third mayoral term.

The Daily News has been approached by business people alleging favouritism by Cr Longland. But the mayor this week said he had no social connection to the business or Cr Milne's family, despite the cafe being one of the only businesses listed as a friend on his Facebook page.

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