Councillor Peter Epov asks – Why are we being forced to amalgamate?
In last month’s lead article “Now This Sounds Like a Council!” I read of the success story of the tiny Council of Liverpool Plains Shire (population 8500), which was found through the NSW Government’s Fit for the Future Review to be ‘Not Fit’ , but escaped amalgamation with two larger Councils through intelligent management and sound financial re-structuring.
Little did anyone dream at the time that a few short weeks later our Council, Greater Taree, would be facing the prospects of a forced amalgamation with Great Lakes Council and Gloucester Shire Council.
Why did this happen?
In a recent Manning River Times article entitled ‘Beggars belief’ Council’s General Manager, Ron Posselt, laid the blame squarely at the feet of Gloucester Shire Council, which in it’s Submission, in order to avoid the merger with Dungog Shire Council, proposed by the NSW Government; stated that it preferred to stand alone, but if this was not acceptable then Gloucester offered a three-way merger with Greater Taree and Great Lakes.
Was it really Gloucester’s fault?
I don’t think so. Its just a little too convenient to blame Gloucester for this mess. Over the past four years, Council has done very little to insulate Greater Taree from the prospect of amalgamation, in fact we have gone out of our way to put ourselves back on the radar after it appeared that we had escaped the first round of proposed amalgamations.
I believe that Council did not deliver an effective nor accurate response to IPART’s Fit For the Future Final Report, a mandatory response, directly back to Premier’s Department. A response that was not even backed by a Council resolution.
Over the past four years Council did not have a strategy for the State Government’s reform agenda. We did not commission, like other Councils, any reports, studies nor did we develop any business cases that showed the benefits or the pitfalls of a merger with one or more neighbouring Councils. The response back to the Premier’s Department was a real opportunity to clarify our position, that went begging.
I am a strong opponent of the proposed Special Rate Variation and I also believe that Council’s application for a massive 49.2% increase so quickly after the Fit For the Future review actually refocused the spotlight back on to Council’s ongoing financial viability. IPART has stated:
“A large number of councils have proposed substantial future increases to general income to meet the financial criteria. There is a risk councils have proposed future SVs to improve their financial performance, and may not have fully considered whether alternative structures for the local government area, such as a merger, may be a better outcome.” (p37)
“Structural changes could achieve similar or larger improvements to a council’s general income and reduce the need for, and size of, potential SV increases, which could limit the impact of higher rates on the community. This was apparent during the assessment process.” (p37)
If you have an opinion on the proposed merger don’t miss out on your opportunity to participate!
Open Public Inquires will be held at:
April 4 – Club Taree 4pm to 8pm
April 5 – Club Foster 9am to 1 pm, Bulahdelah Bowling Club 3pm to 5pm
April 6 – Gloucester Soldiers Club 9am to 12 midday
Should you wish to attend and or speak you need to register www.councilboundaryreview.nsw.gov.au or by telephone: 1300813020.
Deadline for written submissions: Friday 15 April. Submissions can be lodged at: www.councilboundaryreview.nsw.gov.au or by mail to Council Boundary Review, GPO Box 5341, Sydney NSW 2001.