Baird takes next step with 35 council mergers

South West Rail Link Opening 20150208_093004
Next stop: council mergers?

The NSW government has lost no time in pushing ahead with its plans to drastically slash the number of NSW councils by around one-third and referred 35 amalgamation proposals to the Chief Executive of the Office of Local Government (OLG), Marcia Doheny.

You can find a full list of the merger proposals and the delegate assessing each one here. You can also make a submission as an individual or organisation.

The OLG has 18 people ready to examine the proposals and has already assigned a delegate to each one, the alacrity of which underscores NSW Premier Mike Baird’s serious intent on getting the job done.

The merger proposals have been written by NSW government and present a 100 per cent glowing report of the benefits of each one; any council or community reservations or potentially negative impacts of mergers are omitted.

Neither do the proposals necessarily reflect what councils have themselves agreed to. For example, one proposals deals with a new council which would be formed by merging Manly, Warringah and Mosman Councils, none of whom have supported such a move.

But the state government has said it will take the views of councils and the public into account. There will be a public inquiry (via a series of public meetings) and written submissions will be considered.

NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole said each delegate would prepare a report according to legislation and consider factors such as “financial considerations, communities of interest, elected representation, employment of staff, service and facilities, and the attitude of residents and ratepayers.”

Their individual reports will then go to the Boundaries Commission, the composition of which Government News understands is not yet known.

One thing is for certain, the appointment of the four Boundaries Commission members will be heavily scrutinised. One will be nominated by Mr Toole, another by Ms Doheny and the final two by Local Government NSW (LGNSW).

The delegates’ reports and the Commission’s recommendations will then go to Mr Toole.

Mr Toole said: “The delegates will provide a report on the proposals against the factors in the (Local Government) Act and will take into account written submissions and comments raised in public meetings. I would encourage those wishing to contribute to provide a written submission on the website or attend a public meeting.

He said he would consider the delegates’ reports and the comments of the Boundaries Commission before determining the outcome of merger proposals.

“The proposed mergers have been informed by four years of consultation with NSW councils, independent assessment, council merger preferences, and feedback from communities and stakeholders. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and we have recognised that each community area in NSW is unique,” Mr Toole said.

Meanwhile, LGNSW will run four NSW workshops (in Wagga Wagga, Sydney, Dubbo and Port Macquarie) from January 15 to February 1, to help councils and their communities respond to merger proposals, including the possibility of mounting legal challenges to forced amalgamations.

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