Cash to councils preparing for reform

By Angela Dorizas

The West Australian Government has offered payments of up to $10,000 to assist councils preparing to voluntarily amalgamate.

Local Government Minister John Castrilli announced that financial assistance will be available to every local council pursuing reform.

“I am pleased to announce that individual local governments will now be eligible for initial payments of up to $10,000 to assist with their preliminary preparations,” Castrilli said.

“This financial assistance may be used by councils in ways that contribute to the preparation of their submissions.”

Castrilli said this could include the appointment of facilitators and consultants to assist in council-to-council engagement and the drafting of submissions.

“Groupings of local governments will also be able to submit a joint funding application seeking combined funding,” he said.

“The application process will be streamlined and expedited to ensure the efficient processing of grant payments to local governments.

“The Department of Local Government, at my request, has also developed a Sector Support Strategy that includes visits by departmental officers to local governments to provide them with information and support during the reform process.”

Castrilli said he was encouraged by the informal feedback he had already received from the sector, indicating that “every region of the State" was engaged in discussions to determine the best outcome for councils and communities.

“Based on that feedback, I am optimistic that the WA local government sector will soon enter a new era of sustainability,” he added.

Councils have until August to report back to the Department of Local Government on whether they will take up the Minister’s call for voluntary amalgamations.

Local government response

The Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) has welcomed the financial assistance.

“WALGA welcomes the funding which will assist Councils in their discussions with each other and in formulating their submissions to the Minister,” WALGA president Cr Bill Mitchell told GovenrmentNews.

“The funding is not intended to cover the costs involved in actual amalgamations, but instead the costs involved in preliminary preparations.

“One part of the equation that has been forgotten so far, however, has been the community and I would imagine that this $10,000 may be able to assist councils in their community consultations.”

The ongoing financial cost of council amalgamations remains a contentious issue in other states, particularly in Queensland.

Last week, the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) renewed its calls for the Bligh Government to cover the costs of forced amalgamations.

LGAQ president Cr Paul Bell told GovernmentNews that the Bligh Government should “pick up the tab”.

“We have been seeking up to $150 million for those councils that were amalgamated in regards to the expenses and costs that we believe are part of the amalgamation process,” Cr Bell said.

“We’re not going to take the pressure off the Government. It was their process, they introduced it, they certainly promoted it and executed it and any extra costs should not be a burden on the ratepayers.”

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