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NSW council merger review panel won’t accept ‘status quo'

A local government review panel has said 'no change is not an option' and the only way forward is council amalgamations.

TYLA HARRINGTON January 10, 2014 4:50am

A local government review panel has said ‘‘no change is not an option’’ when it comes to the future of NSW councils.

The report, formed to investigate options for struggling councils after the release of financial reports, recommends amalgamation is the only way forward for local government.

It supports the amalgamation of Deniliquin Council, Murray Shire and Conargo Shire, and the potential inclusion of Wakool Shire Council in the group.

The only other alternative for local councils, according to the report, is to form a Rural Council consisting of Wakool, Conargo, Jerilderie, Deniliquin, Murray and Berrigan.

The group is also the recommended Joint Organisation, which would replace the Regional Organisation of Councils format currently used.

The exact implication of the Rural Council and Joint Organisation options is not yet clear to either council.

The recommendations in the Independent Local Government Review Panel’s report, released on Tuesday, have been slammed by Murray Shire Mayor Tom Weyrich and Conargo Shire Mayor Norm Brennan.

They say any merger will have no benefit for their communities.

Both mayors have vehemently opposed the merger proposals since they were first floated in December 2012, indirectly fighting with Deniliquin Council which supports the grouping.

Both mayors also question the potential for Deniliquin to become the regional centre of any new merged group, saying Murray Shire would be more appropriate.

Murray Shire Mayor Tom Weyrich said he is ‘‘not impressed’’ with the final report.

‘‘The timing of this from the state government is once again a disaster,’’ he said.

‘‘The whole thing has been a schamozzle.

‘‘We’ve always said we will resist amalgamations.’’

Cr Weyrich said Murray Shire is in a sound position and doesn’t want to merge with any other council or shire.

He said it had nothing to do with Deniliquin and was nothing against the town.

‘‘Why would we want to? What’s in it for us? The people I talk to in local government agree.

‘‘You can slice and dice it all you want, but it’s all about the funding (available for the merger) and the lack of.’’

Cr Weyrich said he is ‘‘bitterly disappointed’’ with his government representatives, who recently said they wouldn’t support the amalgamation.

He also said the assessment of councils is wrong.

‘‘It says Murray Shire greatly depends on grant funding, which is ridiculous,’’ he said.

‘‘We use the money for projects as does every council but Murray Shire can be sustained without grant funding.

‘‘Deni’s rate base is listed as low. That’s part of the problem.’’

Conargo Shire Mayor Norm Brennan said he was ‘‘not surprised’’ by the final report’s recommendations, but would continue to protest them.

‘‘The plan is now to get back to the community and to reaffirm their beliefs and what they want to do,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s not about what the Independent Review Panel wants, it’s about what my community wants.

‘‘It is blatantly obvious to me that there’s no benefits to my community.

‘‘I can’t see benefits of amalgamating, and the benefits to Deni; you have to wonder whether that will be long term or not.’’

Cr Brennan said if Conargo Shire is at risk, as the report indicates, he said ‘‘God help the rest of them’’.

Deniliquin Mayor Lindsay Renwick said Deniliquin Council’s approach to any changes to the local government structure in the region have not altered – it believes there should be dialogue between all local government stakeholders to ensure any decisions made were in the best long term interests of the region as a whole.

‘‘The report recommends reconstituting the Boundaries Commission and requiring it to undertake regular reviews of local government boundaries across NSW,’’ Cr Renwick said.

‘‘The Minister, any council, public authority or a group of electors would be permitted to submit a specific proposal to the commission.

‘‘Do we want to wait until this occurs – which in the present environment would seem inevitable – or do we want to be proactive and have a greater chance of controlling our own destiny?

‘‘The report states the government should make it clear that no change is not an option, and as such we need to make sure any change that is suggested for this region is on our terms.’’

Cr Renwick welcomed the recommendations that professional and financial support should be provided to encourage voluntary mergers, and the emphasis placed on the importance of maintaining local identity and local government representation.

‘‘I look forward to having open dialogue with other local government representatives in the region to ensure any proposals presented are for overall benefit,’’ Cr Renwick said.

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