Clarence Valley Regional Council Mayor Richie Williamson
Clarence Valley Regional Council Mayor Richie Williamson Adam Hourigan

Councils band together, but no amalgamation

A "JOINT organisation" will pool the resources and bargaining power of Clarence Valley Regional Council with three surrounding local governments.

Mayor Richie Williamson was adamant the new structure was not an amalgamation and said Clarence Valley, Coffs Harbour, Bellingen and Nambucca councils would continue to exist as separate entities.

"In fact, it is the exact opposite. This is not about amalgamation in any form," he said.

"It's about a group of councils working in a regional framework."

A $5 million funding pool has been allocated to forming 15 "joint organisations" across New South Wales as part of the State Government's "Fit for the Future" local government reforms.

There have been suggestions the new organisations were a ploy to eventually replace "left-leaning" Regional Development Australia bodies in New South Wales.

Cr Williamson said he had not been told anything to that effect.

"We actually don't know much of substance about it yet. The make-up and its role are up for some strong discussion," he said.

"We need to ensure it's not simply adding another layer of bureaucracy.

"In the past, Coffs Harbour City and Clarence Valley have worked hand in hand to deliver a $180 million scheme for a high-quality water supply.

"This joint organisation will look at other ways we can work in a regional framework to deliver projects."

Coffs Harbour Mayor Denise Knight said the new system was "no great leap" for the region.

"We've always worked with Clarence, Nambour and Bellingen anyway," she said.

"All councils in NSW are trying to get their act together. Fortunately, we're a bit ahead of the game." 

No forced amalgamations... yet

FORCED amalgamations may not be on the table yet, but they have not been ruled out.

Every council in NSW must assess its financial position and submit either an "improvement proposal" or "merger proposal" to the State Government by June.

Treasurer Andrew Constance told attendees of a recent business breakfast in Sydney the government may have to "pull out the stick" on forced amalgamations.

"I hope this works. I think eventually we're going to have to pull out the stick. We have offered up the carrot first up, we're going to have to pull out the stick," he said.

Premier Mike Baird would not rule out forced mergers when questioned in Parliament on Tuesday.

"We know that the current position is not sustainable, but those opposite do not care," he said.

"However, losing a million dollars a day is not sustainable; it needs to be changed."

Mayor Richie Williamson doubted "very much" Clarence Valley Regional Council would be asked to merge with any of its neighbours.

"We need to demonstrate to the Office of Local Government that we meet the Fit for the Future framework," he said.

"I'm extremely confident we will be able to achieve those outcomes. We are well advanced on a lot of those issues."

-APN NEWSDESK



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