Survey of amalgamated councils delivers surprising results

By Angela Dorizas

Local governments in Queensland have been long-time critics of forced council amalgamations, but a new report has shown that council mayors and chief executives are generally positive about the potential of reforms.

An independent survey of amalgamated councils was conducted by Market Facts on behalf of the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ), with 30 of the 31 merged councils participating voluntarily.

LGAQ president Paul Bell said survey respondents remained anonymous, but were grouped under four categories – south-east Queensland, provincial, regional and rural councils.

“The survey indicated that 78.6 per cent of respondents believed there was potential to achieve stronger and more efficient, effective local government within five years, although gross debt of councils was expected to increase by an average 11 per cent by 2013/14,” Cr Bell said.

He said mayors and chief executives did not expect net tangible benefits during their term in office.

“If gains were to come, it would be in the 2012 to 2016 term,” Cr Bell said.

“A significant number expect benefits from efficiencies and economies of scale outweighing the initial costs of amalgamation will take more than seven years.

“Eighty per cent expect new planning schemes and complete sets of local laws for the amalgamated areas to be in place by 2012.

“The equalisation of services and infrastructure across new council areas are expected to be achieved in five years by 84 per cent of the respondents.”

Cr Bell said the survey also revealed that mayors and CEOs acknowledged that community dissatisfaction with rates, charges, levels of service and loss of community were “major hurdles to be overcome”.

Survey respondents identified the potential for better planning and development control, along with more efficient infrastructure provision, as major benefits of local government reform.

“Amalgamations were considered by 61 per cent of provincial and regional councils as helping to attract better qualified and experienced staff, but by only 20 per cent in the south-east Queensland region,” Cr Bell added.

Not all respondents, however, provided positive feedback on amalgamations.

“There is concern that one in five respondents said they expected no benefits from amalgamation,” Cr Bell said.

“At this time, there are no savings, just costs.

“Mayors say they need the state government to focus on the re-instatement of capital works subsidies and meeting the escalating costs of amalgamation.”

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