Proposed Great Lakes, Taree and Gloucester Council Merger FEATURED MidCoast LGA (overall news) by Dave Brazier - March 17, 2016March 17, 2016 A series of public meetings will be held over the proposed merger of Great Lakes, Taree and Gloucester Councils which is officially back on the table. The proposal made by Gloucester Shire, was a surprise to Great Lakes Council having been deemed fit to continue as a standalone council by the State Government. With no business case developed for the proposed three way merger, Great Lakes Deputy Mayor Len Roberts, said Council was not in a position to comment on the proposed amalgamation. “Without a business case, we cannot form an official opinion,” he said. “Council will hear from the Local Government’s delegate next week and will then discuss its position and approach for keeping residents informed.” Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) reported in October 2015 that Great Lakes Council had undertaken a business case for a merge with Gloucester Shire but “found that a merger would have a significant negative impact on Great Lakes Council.” While Great Lakes was shown to be sustainably “Fit for the Future,” the independent IPART report showed Gloucester and Taree Councils did not reach the mark, failing to satisfy the criteria for financial sustainability. Under the proposal, Great Lakes would join forces with the two “Unfit” shires forming a larger regional council with a combined population of 90 000 people, responsible for 3590 km of roads and 487 bridges. Should Great Lakes Council have to merge with Great Taree and Gloucester Councils? With the number of councils in NSW being reduced from 152 down to 109 as a result of proposed mergers, Minister for Local Government Mr Paul Toole, said the aim of the program was building stronger communities. “We need our councils to be strong and modern, so they can deliver more infrastructure, better service and have secure economic futures for ratepayers,” Mr Toole said. The task of examining the proposal has been delegated to Dr Ian Tiley who is required to hold a public inquiry under the Local Government Act. A spokesperson for Dr Tiley said, “Public inquiries provide members of the public with an opportunity to express their views on the proposal to Dr Tiley. Members of the public can attend all sessions, but may only speak once at each inquiry.” A public meeting will be held at Bulahdelah Bowling Club on Tuesday 5 April at 3pm with further meetings occurring in Forster, Taree and Gloucester. Registration for the public meetings can be made on the Council Boundary Review website or by phoning 1300 813 020. The merge of the councils really doesn’t interest me. I’m not really into politics. My husband is. I just want what’s best for everyone involved. Thora Ireland, Bulahdelah I’m fine with the merger. I’ve looked at the other councils and I think Great Lakes is better off joining with the nearby councils as it will be better for the area. Tanya Locke, Bulahdelah Under the Local Government Act the Minister for Local Government has referred the submission to the Chief Executive of the Office of Local Government for examination and report back to the Minister. I encourage members of the public to make written submissions commenting on the proposal before Friday 15 April. There are also a series of public meetings in early April and I also encourage everyone to go along and everyone have their say. I want to hear what people have to say and I will take their views to the Minister so he knows the attitude of residents in Myall Lakes to the Gloucester Council proposal. Stephen Bromhead MP State Member for Myall Lakes I think the merge would be a great idea. It will allow councils to work together to provide better services for the community. It would also make communities more pleasant by bringing them together. Rose Wilson, Girvan I don’t think the merge of the councils is a good idea. There would be too much area to cover and too many individual towns to look after. Nicky Hammerl, Bulahdelah I don’t really know what the best way to go is. I don’t have an opinion on it at the moment. I would need to know more about it before deciding. Michael Shultz, Markwell It sounds like a good idea and we should think positively. There will be more available funding for local projects. Mark Smythe, Bulahdelah The members of the Myall Coast Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Inc are largely against the proposed merger between Great Lakes, Greater Taree and Gloucester Councils. Without a detailed business case, there does not appear to be any real benefit to Great Lakes residents or businesses. The creation of such a ‘super Council’ would be out of character with surrounding LGA’s. It would also leave Tea Gardens and Hawks Nest with a significantly reduced regional significance and struggling for representation and resources within the larger LGA. Mark McCormick, President Myall Coast Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Inc It will be a great idea as there are too many councils. It will be great to balance the demographic and evenly distribute resources making it more efficient for the area. Judy Dixon, Bulahdelah The amalgamation of the councils is not a good idea. Great Lakes have demonstrated that it is fit on all criteria and would be lumbered with two underperforming councils. The result would be a deterioration of council services in all three merged local government areas. I believe that Great Lakes Council should be left as a standalone unit. This would be the best outcome for this area. John Sahyoun, President, Bulahdelah Chamber of Commerce and Tourism I would be in favour of 3 way mergers of Councils. The reason is simple economics. At present Councils only raise enough money from Rates to pay their staff & run their offices. They then need Grants/handouts in order to complete the basic tasks that Councils are required to achieve. Therefore if three Councils merged, 2 Administrations were removed, then Council would have funds for community tasks. John Blackbourn, North Arm Cove The bigger the organisation, the less effective it is for the local people. If the councils do decide to merge, I feel that our local voice will be lost, particularly in Bulahdelah. Jack Ireland OAM, Bulahdelah We did a survey year’s ago to find out what we wanted from our council if they were to stand alone. Great Lakes were told they could stand alone without having to merge. We pay high rates and I think that’s why our Council is in a good financial position. I can’t see that it’s going to be much benefit to us and I think we would struggle and could become neglected. Irene Worth, Bulahdelah Surely the decision not to merge GLC with Gloucester was decided by the government department after seeking input from many avenues, recognising that GLC was able to meet all of the requirements needed to continue without assistance from the government. A very rewarding decision for all concerned. So why the need to once again go over a similar proposal with a wider consolidation? Why should GLC have to once again spend funds, not budgeted for, to oppose/identify difficulties of such a merger? I certainly do not support an attempt by the NSW government to place an addition burden on GLC staff by seeking to add extra workloads and costs that would need to be borne by the current ratepayers of GLC. No doubt Gloucester and Taree would come aboard with heavy baggage, which I am concerned will mean an increase in my rates to make up the shortfall. Gordon Bartlett, Hawks Nest Great Lakes Council is over stressed with its own workload. Adding other councils will make it more difficult to carry out projects such as construction as they may be under resourced. David Mort, Bulahdelah I don’t think I would be in favour of the merge. Great Lakes Council is in a much better financial position than some other council’s. A merge would have a negative impact on our local government area. Brian Ede, Wootton If it meant we have a lot more access to greater funds across the three shires it could allow a more even spread of the funds. I’m not sure if the costs will be worth it. If we lose funds in the long run, than I would be against it. Bernadette Newton, Bulahdelah I’d like to see the finances of all the councils involved and the situation of how they are sitting financially at the moment. I would also like to see how the government intends to fund the merge. I cannot make a comment either way without knowing the financial situation. Arthur Baker OAM, Bulahdelah There will be a lot of money needed for all councils to fill in the backlog of works needed to be completed before any type of merger can be considered. How on earth can we expect a “Super Council” to function by inheriting a massive backlog of works? These works aren’t completed because of the lack of money. So without any relief package from the government, how can any type of merger benefit the rate payer? Allan Freihaut, Bulahdelah I think that Australians are too over-governed and the fewer bureaucratic entities managing us the better. If there are real savings to be achieved that would allow a decrease in rates and improved efficiencies then I’m all for it. There are far too many bureaucrats on enormous salaries and far too much red tape blocking development and good governance. John Slater, Tea Gardens If Great Lakes Council as a “Fit For The Future” Council remains standalone, Councillors and Council staff would all retain their positions and salaries and allowances as well as the election structure such as no Wards and Mayor elected by Councillors. We need far more information before making any judgement on the merger. Ian Morphett, Secretary The Myall Koala & Environment Group Inc. My initial comment to this issue is that it must be the subject of widespread community consultation by Great Lakes Council. The prospect of amalgamating with two Councils which are struggling economically is not one that Great Lakes residents should take lightly. At the very least, I believe that a truly independent consultant should be engaged to investigate the ramifications to all three Councils and their residents before further community consultation takes place. Trevor Jennings, President/Secretary Hawks Nest / Tea Gardens Progress Association Generally we feel that a merge with Port Stephens would be more appropriate providing that the Mayor and his supporting Councillors were removed from office. The Northern Boundary needs to be the Lakes Way, with North of it merging with Taree, Reasons are as follows: a) Waterways/foreshores would be under the same Council. b) Commercial advantage, that both areas rely heavily on Tourism and would complement each other. c) Demographics needs are similar. d) Financial viability of both councils would be strengthened. Peter Economos, Pindimar The Baird government’s forced amalgamation plans for local councils is out of control. There should not be any Council amalgamations unless there is agreement between Councils and unless there is a solid business case for the amalgamation. So far, all we’ve seen from the NSW government is broken promises and unsubstantiated claims. Local Councils should remain exactly that – ‘local’. Kate Washington MP State Member for Port Stephens My thoughts are along the line that geographically we should be within the Port Stephens shire. The area should include the Lakes from Bungwahl—Tea Gardens/ Hawk Nest. That was on the agenda approximately ten years ago and was fiercely opposed by the then Mayor Mr. Chadban who won the day. Under the current suggestion, I would not support such an amalgamation should Port Stephens amalgamate with Newcastle—That move would be a disaster for us, however if Port Stephens remains alone, such a take-over could be revisited. I personally would not like to see Great Lakes be forced to amalgamate with Gloucester and Taree. Both of those councils are struggling and the proposed amalgamation would seem to be a cynical attempt to attach to a financially successful shire such as Great Lakes. We here in Tea Gardens are now beginning to reap a recognition which seems a long time in coming. Any of these proposed changes will reflect badly for us. We have to remember that with a population of only 4000, we currently represent 10% of the Great Lakes Shire. Such an amalgamation will reduce us to less than 5%. Gordon Grainger, Tea Gardens Despite being found fit for the future and able to stand alone, Great Lakes Council has been placed in a 3 way merger proposal with Greater Taree and Gloucester Councils. By Cr Len Roberts Deputy Mayor, Greal Lakes Council The proposal has arisen as a tactical move by Gloucester to avoid merging with Dungog Council. As soon as the proposal was received by government, the government initiated a proposal between Maitland and Dungog because if the Gloucester proposal was successful, Dungog would be left hanging. Mayor Jan McWilliams andDepurty Mayor Len Roberts This prompted Port Stephens Council to initiate a merger with Dungog to avoid merging with Newcastle. It is now likely the government will resurrect the Newcastle – Lake Macquarie proposal. This confusing scenario is somewhat akin to the intricate chess manoeuvres being played by amateurs not fully understanding the implications and end result. The ramifications for our ratepayers are that particular rules now come into play about expenditure and new works. Basically we can only spend strictly in accordance with the budget and undertake existing works. Dr Ian Tiley has been appointed as the delegate to investigate the proposal and is obligated to hold public meetings. He has chosen the following times and places within Great Lakes: 5 April: 9am to 1pm at Club Forster and 3pm -5pm Bulahdelah Bowling Club. Council has no input in the conducting of the public meetings. Members of the public including councillors who would like to attend must register first using the online registration form at www.councilboundaryreview.nsw.gov.au or phoning 1300 813 020 and indicating if you wish to speak. You can also make a submission on line. If the merger is successful it will mean that we would be part of the largest council on the east coast of NSW and would extend from the Karuah River in the South to Johns River in the north and Nowendoc in the North West. The government intends to announce the successful mergers by 30 June. All Councillors will be dismissed unless the Minister specifically nominates particular ones to remain. Dr Tiley can only take submissions on the proposal in accordance with the following 11 factors: financial advantages and disadvantages, community of interest and geographical cohesion Existing and traditional values Attitude of residents towards the proposal Manner and number of elected representation Impact on council ability to provide services Impact of employment on staff Impact on rural communities Whether there should be wards Need to ensure the opinions of diverse areas are effectively represented Factors relevant to efficient and effective local government There is no point in just saying leave us alone, we are fit. The government already knows that. We need to express our opinions through submissions. I urge you to have your say; otherwise, we may miss out on the representation and services we deserve.