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Council to fight to stand alone

Bland Shire Council will argue that forced Council amalgamations in rural areas will have a devastating effect on the viability of towns such as West Wyalong and perpetuate the decline of rural New South Wales.

An extraordinary meeting of Bland Shire Council on Tuesday night unanimously resolved to fight for Bland Shire to stand alone in the face of the threat of forced amalgamations under the State Government’s Fit for the Future Local Government reform package.

New South Wales Councils have until November 18 to formally respond to a recent Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) Assessment which under the Government’s Fit for the Future framework deemed Bland Shire and the majority of its neighbours “unfit”. The Government is also inviting “unfit” Councils to identify any preferred merger options as part of its response.

Bland Shire will stand in solidarity with all seven of its neighbouring Councils by not identifying any preferred merger options in its response to the Government.

A public meeting held in the Bland Shire Council Chambers on Tuesday night showed overwhelming support for Council to fight to stand alone, which complemented the results of a recent community survey which showed that 84 per cent of respondents were opposed to a merger.

While Bland Shire Council was deemed “unfit” in accordance with the Fit for the Future Framework – mostly due to the fact that the Shire population is less than 10,000 and therefore failed to meet the scale and capacity criteria – Council was deemed to be financially sustainable.

Council General Manager, Ray Smith, said Council has undertaken a range of initiatives in recent years, including undertaking an organisational restructure and better practice review, to improve efficiencies and continues to strive to achieve savings and attract new revenue streams.

In its formal response to the IPART assessment, authored by Mr Smith, Council will argue –

  • There have been no identifiable advantages provided either by IPART or the NSW State Government that Bland Shire Council and its communities will be

    better off economically or socially as a result of Council amalgamations. In IPART’s own words “We do not have sufficient evidence to evaluate the costs and benefits of the merger option compared to the stand alone proposal”.

  • Bland Shire Council has the burden of having the second largest road network of all NSW Councils and with the freezing of the Financial Assistance Grants and Roads to Recovery funding this has placed unnecessary financial hardship on Council. The NSW Government must address the underlying problem of inadequate funding of local Councils as a direct result of almost 40 years of rate pegging.

  • The NSW Government is making the claim that we are dealing with 100 year-old boundaries of Local Government areas but all amalgamations will achieve are the same boundaries on a larger scale. The Government must consider boundary changes that will provide a much greater scope for more effective local government.

  • Council amalgamations in rural areas will have a long term devastating effect on the viability of small towns such as West Wyalong. While Council employees may have a three year protection period from loss of employment after that three year period there is a definite likelihood that job losses will occur and that families will be forced to leave their home town in search of alternative employment in larger centres. By forcing Council amalgamations in rural areas the NSW Government will be perpetuating the decline of rural NSW.

  • Bland Shire Council supports all 17 of the recommendations arising from the Parliamentary Enquiry into local government reform in NSW. In particular, Council strongly urges the NSW Government to immediately adopt Recommendation 11: “That the NSW Government commit to a policy of no forced amalgamations of local Councils, except in circumstances where it can be established that a Council is severely financially unsustainable to the point of bankruptcy or unable to maintain an acceptable level of service provision”.

The New South Wales Premier has indicated that all Councils will be advised of their future by the end of the year.