The importance of local councils can never be, and should never be, underestimated, writes Labor local government spokesman Greg Warren.
When a child runs out on beautifully maintained sporting field on a Saturday morning – you can thank your local council for that.
When you hire out a community hall for a fundraiser or function – you can thank your local council for that.
When you get from point A to point B without having to navigate around giant, pot holes – you can thank your local council for that too.
The profound and important impact all 128 councils throughout NSW have on our everyday lives is not often recognised or acknowledged.
But it should be.
Last week was Local Government Week – an entire week dedicated to paying tribute to our local councils.
Personally, I think the event isn’t long enough and we should have a Local Government Month.
Before entering State Parliament, I was elected to Camden Council, in Sydney’s south west.
While on council I was also fortunate enough to be elected to the position of Mayor twice.
It was both a privilege and an honour to serve the people of Camden and my time as a Councillor certainly presented me with a new perspective.
Make no mistake, being an employee or an elected representative of a council is a tough gig.
Often times they are stuck in the middle of ratepayers who demand to see more bang for their buck, and a state government who continually bleed the pockets of councils dry.
Take the Fire Emergency Service Levy for example.
In May this year, well after the 128 councils throughout the state had finalised their 2019/20 budgets, the NSW Liberals and Nationals announced the $19 million FESL black hole would need to be funded by, you guessed it, councils.
Some of the larger councils have been hit with bills close to half a million dollars.
Regional and rural councils with smaller budgets have also felt the brunt of the decision which was only made due to the government’s inability to formulate and deliver productive policy.
In fact, Gilgandra Council moved a motion informing the Liberals and Nationals that they are refusing to pay the additional levy.
That is an extraordinary step – but one that I, and NSW Labor fully support.
Labor supports the expansion of fire fighters workers compensation coverage but like workers compensation for all public sector workers, this should be funded through general revenue and not a separate levy.
The imposition of this levy will force many councils to slash services or rise rates.
Sporting fields will not receive the attention they deserve or need and as a result the standard will fall below community expectations.
Large potholes on local roads will also go unfilled creating a preventable and dangeorus hazard.
Our councils and ratepayers deserve better.
The three tiers of government in our country – Federal, State and local councils – can only work effectively if all stakeholders cooperate and respect one another.
The Liberals and Nationals need to reassess how they treat our local councils.
*Greg Warren is Labor’s spokesman on local government and former Camden Mayor.
You can read last week’s piece by local government minister Shelley Hancock here.
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