Council merger fight rears again as new report highlights positives
Vikki Campion, Urban Affairs Reporter
The Daily Telegraph
February 27, 20134:11PM
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MAYORS have clashed over amalgamation in Sydney today, with some saying proposed mergers could create stronger governments, and others calling it absolute rubbish that would create burdened bureaucracies.
Liberal Waverley mayor Sally Betts told an Urban Taskforce forum today a new study investigating merging three eastern beaches councils revealed it would allow for real strategic capacity.
“After paying all our debts, bringing assets and infrastructure to satisfactory level, in ten years, the three councils would achieve a $400 million surplus,” she said.
“I believe that may tick all the boxes.”
Ms Betts said there is a danger in Sydney of being not able to deliver the Governments view of change and planning with a single Sydney council – but that Waverley had been in talks with it’s neighbours about sharing services.
“For the first time we are talking and sharing resources – we know that our councils can work together,” she said.
Labor-aligned Burwood mayor John Faker said amalgamation was not a solution to council reform, with his council delivering a large surplus but his neighbours delivering much smaller results.
“I’ve yet to see one council go broke. If you have two broke councils and put them together you get one larger broke council,” he said.
“The argument for amalgamation is absolute rubbish. It’s people trying to hoodwink you that bigger is better.”
“The answer is having council share resources, share services. We have saved more than $110 million in the last 10 years.”
He said the recently amalgamated Queensland councils had seen rates rise by more than 20 per cent since they were merged.
“It will slow and stop the property industry because you won’t get a decision, you will be dealing with a bureaucracy,” he said.
Liberal Liverpool mayor Ned Mannoun said his council was trying to encourage jobs growth in the west to ease peak congestion and the impact on infrastructure and the economy, with a GDP big enough that if it were a country, it would rank 130th in the world.
“We are a large council, we need to get bigger. We want to support amalgamation. It is possible but we cannot amalgamate without a complete reform,” he said.
“We have begun a restructure, its leading the way in local government.”
Mr Mannoun said being a mayor was not a part time job, with councillors given just days to read thick, complex documents before making decisions.
“Being a mayor should be a full time position if we are serious about it,” he said.
“A full time governing body would get better outcomes.”
He said councils should be information sharing, and sharing the costs of social services and youth programs.
“If we can save money there we can put it in services matter,” he said.
“We want to be engaged and hopefully this reform can lead to that.”
Liberal Holroyd mayor Ross Grove said the Queensland model of amalgamation, where the ward councillor was paid more than Federal MP’s would “inspire a degree of reluctance from the community”.
“My residents are very sensitive to rating issues. When local government says its financially unsustainable it need to look at the structure of its services,” he said.
“There is a lot councils should be doing to create revenue streams and they should be rationalising their services internally.”
Botany mayor Ben Keneally said size was not the only dimension to deliver effective local government.
“When I hear people complain about local government, it’s mostly issues of governance, about politics intruding on decisions, about dysfunctional councillors and a revolving door of mayors and GMS who never get up to speed on local issues,” he said.
“Those things can be addressed through governance.”
Mr Keneally said simply putting councils together was not the way of creating a Boris Johnson.
“We need to think about the power and responsibility of local government,” he said.
“Our State departments are among the biggest in the world. Those are services that in other parts of the world are delivered at local government scale. Simply bringing council together to do the same thing, footpaths, parks and development assessment is no way to create a Boris Johnson.”
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