In September 2014 the NSW Government responded to the NSW Independent Review of Local Government with a program called “Fit for the Future”.
The Government has challenged Councils to demonstrate how they will become financially sustainable, provide effective and efficient services and have the scale and capacity to meet the future needs of their communities and effectively partner with the NSW Government.
By 30 June 2015 Council’s need to show how they propose to become “Fit for the Future” through either a merger proposal or improvement process.
During the course of the Independent Review Great Lakes Shire Council was identified by the Review Panel as a merger possibility with Gloucester Council.
As a consequence of the “Fit for the Future “program both Councils are required to review the possibility of a merger of the two Councils.
In recent times the Councils have determined to develop a business case to inform discussions between the Councils and also our communities.
Our Business case is being conducted by Morrison Low and we expect their report this month which will outline all scenarios including benefits and costs .
At this stage neither Council has resolved to merge. Our Council’s preferred position is to stand alone.
lf Council resolves to stand alone we will need to complete a submission to the NSW Government that addresses the scale and capacity issues and outlines how the Council proposes to meet the financial sustainability benchmarks The Government is now advising Councils that if you are deemed “Fit for the Future” the Councils will have:
- Priority access to other State funding and grants.
- Access to a streamlined lPART process for rate increases above the rate-pegging limit particularly focused on infrastructure needs.
- Access to a TCorp borrowing facility that will save Councils on the cost of borrowing. If Council determines not to merge, the Council will have to respond to the “Fit for the Future“ program outlining how we intend to address the issues of scale and capacity, how the Council intends to address the infrastructure renewal backlog and how they propose to meet the future service needs of the community.
As part of the process the Council may have to pursue a rate increase in the near future to address the shortfall in asset renewal and maintenance expenditure.
This will be dependent upon the availability of grant funding or loans at low interest.
There is a lot of information that can be used to run an argument for or against Council mergers and whilst there may be some obvious benefits from a Council merger there are also disadvantages such as the impact on local representation over a much larger area.
The major advantage of a merger is that the council would be deemed to be fit for the future and automatically meet the benchmarks even if the merged entity does not.
Council will provide residents and ratepayers with further information as it becomes available to enable the community to be informed.
Written by Deputy Mayor Len Roberts