Councils all at sea over water management issue

LOCAL government councils on the NSW North Coast have begun turning on each other in a squabble over who should manage water supplies. The councils, including Tweed, have failed to reach an agreement on a joint stance to be put to a state government inquiry into water supplies. Instead, each council is now%likely to push for their own preferred reforms. Tweed Shire Council is finalising its position after being given until Friday week to lodge a submission with the inquiry. The inquiry has updated its schedule, with public hearings now due to be held in Tweed Heads in early May. But council officers, in a preliminary report to administrators Garry Payne and Max Boyd, have warned their preferred option of a loose alliance to run the water and sewerage systems on the North Coast might not work as well as it should unless some of the other councils amalgamate. A recent meeting of the Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Council s (NOROC) was divided on the option of an alliance with the NOROC board, instead encour- aging individual councils to "pursue appropriate models". Under the loose alliance being pushed by Tweed, member councils would pool some resources, but the specific arrangements for each area would be left to the councils to run. Other options canvassed but rejected by Tweed council officers include a total state government takeover through a state water agency for all of regional NSW, a state-owned water corporation or a regional corporation owned by local councils. Currently Tweed Shire runs its own water and sewerage systems, but in nearby Byron, Ballina, Lismore and Richmond Valley council areas, water is provided through the jointly-run through Rous%Water County Council. Tweed council officers have told the administrators in their report that "given the success of the current organisational arrangements for Tweed Shire", the preferred option would be a loose alliance But they then warn: "The true benefits of this model would only be delivered if there were some amalgamation of councils within the Richmond Valley, as this would minimise parties to the alliance. This statement is reinforced by the lack of consensus at the recent NOROC meeting to discuss the issue." The alliance model has however been backed by Casino-based Richmond Valley Council, which has told the inquiry the option would allow councils to achieve "economies of scale" but allow each council to retain ownership of existing assets. The inquiry into water and sewerage services in regional NSW is due to hold public hearings at 16 centres, including Sydney, from next Tuesday. The Tweed Heads hearing is scheduled for May 15.



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