Amalgamation a dirty word, says LGAT

By Rob O’Brien

Amalgamation has become a dirty word and ‘super councils’ wrongly imply that bigger councils will be more efficent, the Local Government Association of Tasmania (LGAT) has said.

In response to ongoing speculation around possible amalgamations in the state, LGAT president Mike Gaffney said that the ‘A’ word had become a pejorative term that didn’t best describe the kind of reform Tasmanian councils needed.

“I think we’ve moved on from amalgamations because ‘amalgamation’ is a dirty word, because there’s always that forced implication that someone’s going to lose out,” he told GovernmentNews.

“I’m actually thinking a merger, or a combination of keeping elective membership and sharing resources at management level [is a better approach].”

Cr Gaffney, who was recently elected to the Tasmanian Legislative Council, also took aim at the notion of ‘super councils’ which he said wrongly implied that larger, merged councils would be more efficient.

“I hate the word super councils… that’s ridiculous, that means every council over 70,000 is a super council, a super council area,” he said. “It has that ‘superman’ implication that we’re going to come in and save it all.

“That may not be the case.”

The issue of super councils was raised by the Local Government Minister Jim Cox recently following a report by the Auditor General Mike Blake which found that in the 2007-08 financial year 17 out of 29 Tasmanian councils posted operating deficits.

Mr Blake said 12 councils reported a deficit for the past three years, including Hobart, Glenorchy and Devonport.

Of the 17 with deficits, five were found to have budgeted for an operating deficit before capital grants. Another five budgeted for an overall deficit, irrespective of additional capital grants.

Cr Gaffney said that since an Acccess Economics report in 2007 which highlighted council inefficiencies local government had been working to improve asset management and financial returns.

Without the infrastructure costs of water and sewerage councils were likely to see improvements in financial sustainability, he added.

“With the reform of water and sewerage at the moment, the biggest reform we’ve had for the last two decades in local government, we need to get through that process before councils are put under pressure to consider these other issues,” Cr Gaffney said.

“We’ve got councils already having discussions and mergers and amalgamations and resource sharing, nothing’s changed apart from it’s being speculated about, and this comes up every year around rates time."

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