Amalgamations inevitable: report
Byron Council among north coast local government areas to be identified
The long-awaited Local Government Review and taskforce report, spearheaded by local government minister and Byron Bay resident Don Page, was released last week.
So how are the state’s 152 local councils doing?
Not great, according to the independent report, with, ‘around a third of all NSW councils being at risk from weak revenues, infrastructure backlogs and declining populations; some are in crisis or very close.’
Third of councils at financial risk
And while Mr Page made an election promise that there will be no ‘forced amalgamations’, the report’s authors say it’s inevitable. ‘Sooner or later, amalgamations will have to be part of the package [to restore financial sustainability]: the number of councils in NSW has halved during the past century and that trend will surely continue.’
The ‘A’ word has always been uncomfortable word for residents and councils.
It’s the main concern for the organisation that represents the state’s 152 councils, Local Government NSW (LGNSW).
Within an hour of the report being released, LGNSW president Cr Keith Rhoades AFSM blasted the short time-frame for councils to provide feedback and said, ‘While the report does not support forcibly amalgamating councils, it does provide a very detailed “merger” blueprint for a future state government without the current “no forced amalgamations” policy.’
The Independent Local Government Review Panel’s report identifies Byron, Richmond Valley, Clarence Valley and Kyogle shire councils as future amalgamation targets, with critics saying a Kyogle merger could happen as early as next year.
Ignorant and happy people
On the bright side, the panel’s findings say, ‘People appear satisfied with the performance of local government – more so than with state and federal governments.’
But ignorance and disengagement in the NSW electorate also reign supreme: ‘The overall level of awareness and understanding about the role and functions of councils is quite low, and there is very limited recognition of mayors and councillors.’
As for cost-shifting from councils to the state, the report came down in favour of the state.
‘Cost-shifting has been overstated relative to other factors, but local government does have legitimate concerns about rating exemptions and concessions, and the way some fees and charges are fixed below cost.
The report concludes that ‘all concerned need to face the reality that there are no “pots of gold” in Canberra or Macquarie Street.’
n See editorial page 10
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