By Angela Dorizas
West Australian Local Government Minister John Castrilli has released Structure Reform Guidelines to assist local councils across the state as they consider how best to respond to his call for voluntary council amalgamations.
As the Minister released the guidelines, he reminded the sector that WA was the “most over-governed” state in Australia.
“There are 139 local government areas across the state, with about half of these areas servicing less than 2,000 residents,” he said in a statement.
“In some areas there is a ratio of one councillor for every 20 people.”
Castrilli pressured councils to pursue voluntary amalgamations for the sake of their communities.
“I urge each and every local government area within Western Australia to embrace this opportunity to voluntarily amalgamate,” he said.
“A reduction in the number of councils coupled with a rationalisation in the number of elected councillors, has the potential to save ratepayers millions of dollars per year; savings that can be better used to fund roads, sports grounds, libraries and other local infrastructure projects.”
Western Australia Local Government Association (WALGA) president Cr Bill Mitchell said the guidelines were not as stringent as they possibly could have been.
“There is the ability to read between the lines. If councils think they are sustainable as they are now or indeed if there’s only minor boundary adjustments, then they have the ability to put that up to the Minister,” Cr Mitchell said.
He said WALGA would have liked to have seen more detailed and prescriptive guidelines.
“However, in saying that if you combine the guidelines with the frequently asked questions that came out with the guidelines, a lot of those gaps are filled in and I think councils now have sufficient information to go about their business,” he added.
Cr Mitchell said the Minister had given councils a “very tight timeline” and a very short period to consult with their communities.
“It’s one thing for the councillors as a whole to have their opinion, but that may or may not be shared by their communities,” he said.
Cr Mitchell said WALGA would continue to encourage councils to “go down the sustainability path” and assist them in meeting the Minister’s timeline requirements. But on the issue of forced amalgamations WALGA remained fervently opposed.
“We still need to speak with the government on not having any forced amalgamations and that will be a political, lobbying exercise.”
Councils are required to examine their long term viability, referring to guiding principles and the reform checklist prepared by the Local Government Reform Steering Committee.
According to the Guidelines, councils will need to have demonstrated capacity in:
- long term strategic planning;
- detailed asset and infrastructure management planning;
- future financial viability and planning;
- equitable governance and community representation;
- proficient organisational capacity;
- effective political and community advocacy for service delivery;
- understanding of and planning for demographic change;
- effective management of natural resources;
- optimal community of interest; and
- optimal service delivery to the community.
Councils are also required to demonstrate progress and outcomes in forming regional groupings and any other previous structural reform.
The Minister has requested that by 31 August, each of the 139 councils make known their decision on voluntary amalgamation, their preferred regional groupings and the number of elected council members they require, from between six and nine.
Download the Structural Reform Guidelines.
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