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Council amalgamation: Shall we dance? Or coming together with carrots and sticks

Re-elected Member for Monaro John Barilaro assured a community meeting in Wamboin in the run-up to the election (and a similar quote by him appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald): “There will be no forced amalgamations …If Palerang choses to stand alone, I will stand with them.”

The other two candidates, Steve Whan for Labor and Palerang Councillor Peter Marshall for the Greens, said similar things.

Marshall got a round of applause by pointing out that with current processes, it is de facto forced amalgamation by carrot and stick. “There’s a large pile of $$ carrots for councils that say yes and very few if you say no.”

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Premier Mike Baird’s unwillingness to rule out forced mergers (unlike his predecessor Barry O’Farrell) focusing though on metropolitan councils. Local sources say it is unclear what the related view is regarding regional councils.

Palerang and Queanbeyan are currently in workshops to be finalised by 30 June. The two councils, with state-paid consultants on hand, are tasked with coming up with ‘fit for the future’ modelling of how things look together and separately – ie, each council standing alone – even a look at somewhere in-between with shared services.

“The information set out a ‘warts and all’ analysis of both councils’ current financial state and projected long-term financial sustainability,” said Queanbeyan Mayor Tim Overall. “This gave the councillors present an indication of how viable their respective councils will be within the coming years.”

The business cases being prepared will look at rates, operational costs, efficiencies and representation, both together and alone. These will be presented for community comment.

So far, without the communities yet having a say, it’s understood neither council wants to embrace the other; Palerang because of concerns regarding representation, Queanbeyan seeing amalgamation as a drain on their resources.

Palerang Mayor Pete Harrison told the Bulletin that his council has been working hard to get across the understanding that a narrow geographic view of Palerang and Queanbeyan is outdated and that the area’s main relationship, starting with majority of employment, is with the ACT.

He would also like to see more emphasis on the role of the regional successor to the South east organisation of councils (SEROC) which might focus on regional development and tourism but also be able to offer job-sharing efficiencies, for example.

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