Great Lakes Council is delighted that the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal’s final report into the financial sustainability of NSW councils has found that it is “fit for the future”.
“We are particularly pleased to see that Great Lakes satisfied all five criteria to be considered ‘fit for the future’, in fact we are the only Mid-North Coast Council to meet all five criteria” said Council’s General Manager Mr Glenn Handford.
Only 37% of NSW Councils ‘met the fit for the future’ criteria.
Mr Handford said Great Lakes Council has not just been working for a couple of years to meet the ‘fit for the future’ criteria.
“We embarked on a journey eight years ago to become ‘financially sustainable’ and implemented a range of measures to achieve that. If we had not commenced then, this result would not have been achieved today” he added.
“This result has only been achieved through the disciplined leadership from our councillors that has remained focussed on achieving financial sustainability over the last eight years.
“Council staff has worked collaboratively with councillors towards this achievement” said Mr Handford.
Although details have not been announced, the Report says “the NSW Government has announced that councils which are assessed as fit will have access to a range of benefits including a streamlined rate variation process, a State Government borrowing facility, priority for other government funding and grants, and eligibility for additional devolved planning powers. Funding will also be provided by the NSW Government to assist with the transitional costs of merging, establishing regional Joint Organisations (JO), and assisting regional and rural councils”.
“Our journey isn’t finished yet, because we still need to ensure we address our infrastructure backlog – and can maintain our existing assets to a level that satisfies our ratepayers.
“To achieve this, we will be looking at a small rate rise over the next four years and this was factored into the Fit for the Future submission” said Mr Handford.
Member for Myall Lakes Stephen Bromhead said the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) Report health check of NSW councils has found that 56 per cent in regional NSW are ‘not fit’ for the future.
The IPART report found reducing waste and red tape through local government mergers could free up funds for NSW ratepayers, to stabilise council rates and fund better services and new infrastructure for communities.
The NSW Government today also announced a new Stronger Communities Fund, providing each new council in regional NSW up to $10 million to invest in community infrastructure projects such as sporting fields, libraries, parks and funding of up to $5 million for each new council, to ensure ratepayers do not pay for the up-front costs of merging. This funding will be available to those mergers agreed to by councils and the NSW Government.
“Four years of independent research, analysis and consultation with councils and the community has shown that the current system of local government is not working as well as it should be,” Mr Bromhead said.
“This IPART report shows the situation is now critical and that action is needed to ensure ratepayers get value for money and the services and infrastructure they deserve.”
The NSW Government will now give councils a 30-day consultation opportunity to inform the Government’s position on local government reform and respond to these IPART findings.
Mr Bromhead said the NSW Government has made a three-point guarantee to give regional communities extra confidence that reforms will deliver tangible benefits and stronger councils:
- Mergers will reduce waste and red tape
- All the savings will go to:
- Better services
- More infrastructure or
- Lower rates
- Local representation will be maintained
“I note from the IPART findings that Greater Taree City Council (GTCC) is not fit for the future and I urge GTCC to consider these IPART findings for their council and hold discussions with neighbouring councils and the NSW Government, so they can deliver better value for money for ratepayers across the region now and into the future,” Mr Bromhead said.
“The savings and Stronger Communities Fund will enable each council to make a decision on whether to invest their extra funds into better services, more infrastructure or lower rates for their community.
“We know that there is no one size fits all in the regions. That is why we have provided $5.3 million for regional Joint Organisations and $4 million for an Innovation Fund to help regional and rural councils that are struggling financially to make the improvements needed.
Eight Far West NSW councils were not included in the IPART review, as their unique challenges are being addressed through the Far West Initiative.
The full IPART report can be found at www.ipart.nsw.gov.au