LGNSW president Keith Rhoades says he will hold the minister to his promise of no mandatory mergers.
LGNSW president Keith Rhoades says he will hold the minister to his promise of no mandatory mergers. Contributed

Forced amalgamations will not be accepted: LGNSW

CRUNCH time for council amalgamations approaches with the hope NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole will today reveal whether forced mergers will be imposed.

Kyogle Council's future hangs in the balance as the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Authority hands over its financial audit of local governments this week.

Mayor Danielle Mulholland said it would be "business as usual" until she learned for certain whether Kyogle was among those councils to be pushed into suspected mandatory mergers under the Fit for the Future scheme.

"There are a lot of rumours going around and all of them are different," she said.

"People (locally) are asking questions about whether we've heard anything, and we can't tell them anything because we haven't.

"They want a result. They would like to know, as we all would."

Cr Mulholland speculated a decision on which councils might be forced to amalgamate would not be made public until next year.

MORE: Government quiet on IPART council merger report

But all ears will be on the Local Government Minister's speech at the Local Government NSW annual conference in Sydney today for news of the Baird government's next move.

Lismore Mayor Jenny Dowell last week predicted Mr Toole would announce a six-month postponement to the September 2016 local elections.

Clarence Valley Mayor Richie Williamson said the speech would be a "scene-setter for the whole conference" and hoped for news on amalgamations, forced or otherwise.

During his opening speech at the conference yesterday, LGNSW president Keith Rhoades made clear the group would hold the minister to his promise of no mandatory mergers.

"The government's policy may have changed since then, but ours has not," he said.

"We do not support the forced amalgamation of councils.

"We do not support any attempt to override grassroots democracy.

"We do not think it will improve efficiency overall.

"We do not believe it is supported by the people of NSW."

Cr Rhoades on Sunday said in a media statement councils had been the victim of four decades of rate pegging.

He accused the State Government of "stacking the deck" against councils, by demanding they meet revenue benchmarks and calling them greedy when they proposed rate rises.

He added Mr Toole was mounting a "pretty transparent stitch-up" to sack councils.

"The minister accuses local government of greed, but it is his government that set the financial benchmarks councils are required to meet to be deemed Fit for the Future," Cr Rhoades said.

"For nearly 40 years, cost shifting and rate pegging have required councils to pick up bigger and bigger tabs for infrastructure and services while preventing their revenues from keeping pace.

"It's a systemic problem which won't be solved by forced amalgamations.

"Forcibly merging two or more struggling councils just creates one big council with bigger funding issues."

His speech at the conference was less forceful, but Cr Rhoades maintained local government was at a critical crossroads.

"Like many of you, I have been involved in this game for many years now but have never seen so much at stake for so many at any one time," he said.

"As the sword and the shield of local government in this state, Local Government NSW is committed to ensuring that all reform - whether it is structural, financial or regulatory - benefits councils and their communities." 

 

THE LGNSW annual conference will continue today with the minister's speech, as well as a Q&A-style debate between:

  • Labor MP Peter Primrose
  • Christian Democrats MP Paul Green
  • David Shoebridge from the NSW Greens
  • Shooters and Fishers MP Robert Borsak
  • Research Fellow in Local Government Dr Joseph Drew
  • Percy Allan & Associates principal Professor Percy Allan


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