Lismore City Council opts to "stand alone"
LISMORE City Council has voted to reject any merger with Kyogle Council in its response to the State Government's local government viability assessment, opting nine votes to one at its meeting last night to 'stand alone'.
Mayor Jenny Dowell said the decision was simple - merging with Kyogle, which was deemed 'unfit' overall under the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Authority assessment - would have weakened Lismore. Lismore passed its IPART assessment overall.
"We really thrashed out all the pros and cons, and there were more cons than pros," Cr Dowell said.
"Plus we commissioned a business case, and it clearly said the cost would be greater to Lismore City Council than the benefits."
Following Kyogle Council's lead, Lismore also abstained from filling out any secondary "preferences" should its first choice of standing alone be refused by the State Government.
"Initially we were thinking to stand alone as our first preference and then saying Kyogle would be better off with Richmond Valley Council as our second, and then perhaps we merge with Kyogle as our third preference," Cr Dowell explained.
"(But) it appears that the advice we received that if there was a merger as any preference it is likely to be taken by the State Government as 'willing' (to merge).
"That was the general understanding of our senior staff… that any preference would look like a willing preference."
The other council identified as a possible partner for Kyogle, Richmond Valley, will meet next Tuesday to vote on its response to the IPART report.
Cr Dowell said suspicion of the government's agenda was at an all-time high given their lack of transparency on the issue of forced amalgamations.
"There's so much fear and speculation about what the government might do from 'leave us alone' and focus on Sydney, or seize the opportunity (to roll out large-scale mergers)," she said.
"One of the possibilities is that by Christmas all the councils could be dismissed and administrators put in.
"The Department of Premier and Cabinet has taken over the process and no one is saying… what happens after November 18.
"It could all happen within a very short timeframe. In some ways there's not much point speculating about the possibilities, but on the other hand everything could be on the table.
"We can't alter it if the government has a set course in mind, and most of us suspect that they do."