Council’s stand-alone gamble pays off

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COUNCIL: Yass Valley Council has survived the chopping block and will remain a stand alone council despite mass amalgamations forced upon surrounding shires.

NSW Premier Mike Baird announced yesterday the number of regional councils will reduce from 109 to 87, with the aim of generating “$2 billion for NSW over 20 years to improve services or stabilise rates”.

Twenty new councils will be created by merging 42 councils.

Mayor Rowena Abbey stated yesterday, “today’s announcement supports Council’s position to remain a stand-alone council throughout the reform process.

“This was further supported by the community during our extensive community consultation process and we believe this is the best outcome for the people of Yass Valley. ”

Deputy mayor Michael McManus said he was “delighted” for the Yass Valley and commended the councillors, staff and local MP Pru Goward for the effort they put towards achieving this outcome.

Yass Valley Councillor Michael McManus

Yass Valley Councillor Michael McManus

When asked how council had managed to stave off a merger when so many councils around us had not, he replied it had been a “challenging” task made successful through sheer hard work and determination.

“I believe that the government accepted our 30-day submission, saw the evidence that we were serious about the SRV [Special Rate Variation] and that put us in a viable position to allow us to exist on our own.”

He couldn’t speculate about why other shires weren’t successful.

“I don’t understand the reasoning… but the [NSW] government has acknowledged that Yass with the SRV is a viable entity with a bright future.

“Governments can always change their mind but I think in this instance we’ve been given a clear direction to go ahead and succeed.”

Cr Abbey said council could now get on with regular business.

“We had nine community consultations and at a majority of them didn’t believe that we should be merged; that we were better to stand alone.

“The reality is that Goulburn and Palerang now have to go through merger proposal discussions and agreements, and the difference for us, being allowed to stand on our own, is that we can just get on with the business at hand,” she told Scoop.

“That’s being the business of council; fixing roads and just getting on with it. These guys are going to spend months sorting through this stuff and consulting with communities trying to resolve actual boundaries. There’s a line on a map and they are all going to probably spend quite a lot of time discussing where that actual line should be.”

“I’m pleased that we don’t have to do that.”

Harden, Young and Boorowa have been earmarked to amalgamate, as has Gundagai and Cootamundra. Gundagai had wished to remain independent while Harden wanted to merge with Cootamundra.

Palerang will be abolished and its region split between Goulburn Mulwaree and Queanbeyan.

Local Government elections will be postponed for six months from September 2016 to March 2017 to allow forced merger entities time to regroup. Yass elections will be postponed too.

“It’s up to us to continue with the hard work, implement the SRV which gives us an opportunity to fix our bridges, improve our rural roads across all of the Yass Valley, and get on with the important infrastructure projects that we are here to govern,” Cr McManus said.

Having experienced council amalgamation within Yass in the past, he said this outcome had benefited from that ugly process.

Yass Valley Council mayor Rowena Abbey. PHOTO: Katharyn Brine

Yass Valley Council mayor Rowena Abbey. PHOTO: Katharyn Brine

“The last time Yass Shire and Yarrowlumla were sacked and the boundaries redrawn, the administrators were appointed and then we had an election. This time the government has seen the hard work we’ve done and allowed us to continue as a stand-alone entity.

“The creation of Yass Valley was not a pleasant experience for the nine councillors, but it was a good outcome for the community, because it made us strong enough for us to this time stand alone.

“Last time we got all that Parkwood area, Sutton, Gundaroo. They were all added to the old Yass council – and that allowed us to have strength in numbers and have a positive future.”

The Labor member acknowledged “the enormous hard work of the staff, the mayor, the local [Liberal] member Pru Goward who has been with YVC every step of the way, and the support of the Yass Valley community.

“There was not a lot of hostility at the community meetings… but there was enormous support for us to stand alone.”

Councillor Ann Daniel said it was a “great relief to know Yass Valley can continue as an independent self-governing shire. We are too strong to be absorbed by an alien body”.

Yass Valley Councillor Professor Ann Daniel

Yass Valley Councillor Professor Ann Daniel

“The NSW government’s judgement recognises the strong community spirit determined to maintain its identity and control over its own direction – evident in the well-attended community meetings and the vigorous work of the consultative committee [made up of  40 citizen advisors].”

She said assessors found Yass Valley to be a prosperous, growing community that was efficiently managed.

“Questions about financial stability have been answered – thanks to a mighty effort by council staff, supported by the community, the Mayor, executive and all council staff must be congratulated.”

Councillor Geoff Frost, who opposed the rate rises, said, “we are untouched because we are of moderate size already and there is no obvious partner for us to amalgamate with. Otherwise we would have been asked to amalgamate, SRV or no SRV.
“I hope that this exercise leads to a change in focus in Council so that we can finally start looking at improving our operations so that we are more responsive and efficient into the future. Increasing the rates is at best a stop gap measure that needs to be complemented by real reform.”

Premier Baird and Local Government minister Paul Toole are now in the process of marketing the forced mergers as opportunities for better infrastructure and stable rates for the proposed 35 new councils (including shires within Sydney).


NSW Premier Mike Baird

“The community expects a stronger local government system that can deliver the infrastructure and services they deserve, while keeping rates stable,” Mr Baird said.

Detailed merger proposals are now being finalised and will be referred to the Chief Executive of the Office of Local Government (OLG) for examination and report under the existing process set out in the Local Government Act.

The Chief Executive will appoint delegates to commence a public consultation process for all 35 proposals, including public hearings.

Final proposals will be referred to the Boundaries Commission for comment.

New regional council merger zones. PHOTO: NSW Government

New regional council merger zones. Click to see enlarged view. PHOTO: NSW Government

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