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.
Mr Handford said, “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.
Despite the labelling of councils as being fit or unfit for the future most residents and ratepayers really do not mind what council area they are in.
If a council is doing a lousy job, there will be many complaints but most people will go about their daily business.
If a council is doing a good job there will be comments that our council is Ok but I wish they would fix the pothole in front of my place.
There will always those who complain incessantly no matter what. There will always be a belief that one area gets more or less than another.
So it came as no surprise that councils across the state reacted to the news that they were found fit or unfit, but the vast majority of people said so what, you did not have to be Einstein to know that and continued about their daily business!
That having been said, Great Lakes along with Port Stephens were found to be fit.
The councils surrounding us were not. What does that really mean for the residents and ratepayers?
First, it means that the hard work and belt tightening and community engagement over the past few years has paid off.
It has been a partnership between the community staff and councillors to secure a financial and sustainable future. We can be left alone to get on doing what needs to be done (albeit slowly).
Second, it does not mean that we can rest on our laurels or think that we are immune from council mergers. Being fit means you are in a position to help others.
Most councils that are fit abut a council that is unfit. The unfit ones are required to consider merger proposals. Those that are fit are asked to consider how they can help the unfit ones.
Third, given that we are surrounded by (except for Port Stephens) unfit Dungog, Gloucester and Taree we will be required to consider many options, some nonsensical, some unpalatable but doable and of course the option of leave us alone.
Council has until Mid-November to respond. Our preference is to stand alone so that there is no additional impost placed on our residents and ratepayers, but we need your feedback.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts and I will forward it onto council, or drop a letter in to the district office.
Check council website for information regarding other feedback opportunities.
Finally, it means that business will not be as usual and changes will happen.
The good news is that having been found fit for the future we are able to borrow money at low interest, not have to go for large rate rises but have the right to budget in accordance with adopted community plans and strategies and eligible for additional government grants.
It really is good news that we were found fit.