Queanbeyan and Palerang councils commenced their respective versions of community consultation regarding merger or stay separate in late May.
‘Fit for the Future’ is the NSW Government’s response to the Independent Local Government Review Panel’s report into the future of local government. The Panel’s report, which was finalised in 2013, recommended a merger between Queanbeyan and Palerang councils.
However, an enquiry now set for the NSW Upper House through the efforts of Labor, Greens and Independent MLCs will question the assumptions and process of what they call the Baird government’s ‘forced amalgamations’ and their effects on local authorities’ abilities to serve their communities.
For Palerang either stand-alone or merged a rate increase is on the cards to service its obligations particularly for infrastructure maintenance in the far-flung shire. A Queanbeyan rate increase is not so clear if stand alone, but it has other financial burdens looming particularly to help finance the Ellerton Drive Extension if it goes ahead, which a merged council would also face. Queanbeyan also speaks of job losses with a merged entity.
Queanbeyan presents its three options for ratepayers to choose as follows:
Option 1 – Regional Services Provider – enabling Queanbeyan City Council to remain stand-alone and also provide a number of ‘back office’ services to Palerang and other neighbouring councils ( we understand at commercial rates).
Option 2 – Queanbeyan-Palerang merger: would see Queanbeyan take on Palerang’s $82 million asset renewal backlog and the merger entity would have operational deficits of up to $8.9m per year.
A Queanbeyan Council statement goes on to say: “This option would also result in job losses in Queanbeyan. Palerang staff are protected under Section 218CA of the Local Government Act as they have regional centres with populations less than 5,000. An independent report suggested a significant number of jobs would be lost from Queanbeyan. Under the Local Government Act, staff positions are preserved for three years after a merger is implemented.”
Option 3 – Both councils stand-alone: Queanbeyan could meet six of the seven benchmark criteria and would achieve the seventh by 2019-20, while Palerang would only achieve three of the seven.
According to Queanbeyan, Palerang is the drag, “Given the Independent Review Panel has identified Palerang as having a long-term unsustainable outlook the government could well consider other options should a voluntary merger option not be supported by respective communities and councillors”.
Palerang presents its options more simply (choose one):
a) Palerang should continue as an independent council in its own right
b) Palerang should amalgamate with Queanbeyan, Goulburn or Yass Valley Council (circle one)
c) Palerang be split up among adjoining councils such a Goulburn, Yass, Shoalhaven, and Cooma Monaro
Both councils have sent information packs and reply paid survey to all ratepayers, both will be doing random telephone surveying and further information is available on their websites.