February heralds a rash of public inquiries into NSW local council mergers as the state government pushes forward with its plans to do away with 40 councils.
There are 35 council merger proposals on the table, involving 75 of the state’s 152 councils.
Delegates, who have been appointed by the Chief Executive of the Office of Local Government (OLG) to report on proposals, will conduct public inquiries and call for written submissions before submitting their reports to the NSW Minister for Local Government Paul Toole and the Boundaries Commission.
The date of the first public inquiries is February 2 when a slew of Sydney councils – including some of the most hotly contested mergers such as Hunters Hill, Lane Cove and City of Ryde; Manly, Mosman and Warringah; Marrickville, Leichhardt and Ashfield and North Sydney and Willoughby – will get to have their say.
There will also be regional public inquiries on the same day, including Conargo Shire and Deniliquin Councils. Some public inquiries will be held at multiple locations, particularly those involving regional mergers, such as Blayney Shire, Cabonne and Orange City, as the population is spread out.
The lion’s share of the public inquiries will be done and dusted within two weeks and the OLG will take written submissions until February 28.
Many of the 18 delegates are current or ex-public servants, such as Executive Director of Strategic Reform at the Department of Family and Community Services, Rod Nockles and Michael Bullen, the Deputy Director General Agriculture in the Department of Primary Industries.
This has led to accusations that the process will not be impartial.
Chief Executive of the Office of Local Government hands 35 merger proposals to delegates
Delegates review proposals (written by the Minister) and give their reports to the Minister and to the Boundaries Commission
The Boundaries Commission gives its comments on the reports to the Minister
The Minister decides whether or not to recommend the proposals proceed to the NSW Governor.
NSW Premier Mike Baird has said he plans to announce the new councils by the middle of 2016 but it is still unknown whether councils who are the subject of merger proposals will be allowed to keep running operations autonomously or council administrators appointed and councillors ousted.
Councils that reluctantly submitted second round merger proposals – such as Leichhardt, Ashfield and Marrickville Council, have previously said that they were promised by Mr Baird that their councillors could remain until the next local government elections, provided they put forward a merger proposal.
As well, councils that are the subject on a merger proposal have been told they are forbidden from submitting a Special Rate Variation for the 2016-7 financial year.
You can make a written submission to a delegate until Sunday February 28 here.
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