Kyogle deemed unfit for the future, seeking merger partner

UPDATE 1.51pm: KYOGLE Mayor Danielle Mulholland wants her council to "reopen the dialogue" with Richmond Valley and Lismore after IPART found two-thirds of NSW's councils to be financially unviable.

Lismore and Richmond Valley councils were in the minority and were both deemed fit for the future.

Cr Mulholland said it was obvious forced amalgamations would be introduced if councils did not volunteer for mergers.

"I thought we put in a solid application," she said.

"Both Richmond and Lismore have been found to be fit, and it was (previously) recommended that we either join a 'Joint Organisation' or merge with them.

"However, they have resolutions on their books that they will stand alone and will not merge.

"I would be scared of our $50 million infrastructure backlog as well."

Cr Mulholland said she would call on the council to recommence conversations with its neighbours to "find a way forward".

"We just have to keep on keeping on," she said.

"I admit to being a little surprised, but IPART does not have an appeals process.

"And (the State Government) is saying they fully intend to proceed with the September 2016 elections.

"That means councils will be merging, and merging fast."

Councils deemed unfit have been given 30 days to respond to the report and volunteer for mergers.

If they do so, each newly formed local government will be eligible for up to a $10 million payment to cover the costs of amalgamation and up to $15 million for infrastructure projects.

 

UPDATE 12.28pm: ONLY one-third of NSW's councils have been deemed fit for the future as the government eyes off a $2 billion windfall from mergers.

IPART's review of every local government in the state told a sorry story for several North Coast councils - Tweed, Kyogle, Tenterfield, Clarence Valley and Bellingen all failing to make the cut.

The figures were better for Lismore, Byron, Ballina, Richmond Valley, Coffs Harbour and Nambucca, who all made the grade.

The report found local government mergers could free up almost $2 billion of ratepayers' money over the next two decades.

Only one-third of NSW councils have been deemed fit for the future. Those who made the cut are in green. Those who did not are in red.
Only one-third of NSW councils have been deemed fit for the future. Those who made the cut are in green. Those who did not are in red. Contributed

"Four years of independent research, analysis and NSW Government consultation with councils and the community has shown that the current system of local government is not working as well as it should be," Premier Mike Baird said.

"With 60 per cent of councils not fit for the future, this IPART report shows the situation is now critical and that action is needed to ensure ratepayers get value for money and the services and infrastructure they deserve.

"For many councils this is a final opportunity to do the right thing for the future of their communities, which in many cases may include merging with neighbouring councils."

Sydney councils were the worst performers, with 71% found to be financially unviable under their current systems.

Councils in the state's regions fared somewhat better with only 56% falling below the grade.

Local Government Minister Paul Toole attributed the poor showing to councils "resisting change" and proposing rate increases to boost their performance rather than nominating for mergers.

Thirty two councils proposed a rate rise to get fit, with 15 councils proposing rises of more than 30%.

Only four of the state's 152 councils put their hand up for voluntary amalgamation and the range of financial incentives the government had offered.

Today Mr Toole announced a new Stronger Communities Fund, providing each new council up to $15 million for infrastructure projects and up to $10 million so ratepayers were not slugged with the up-front costs of the amalgamation.

 "I urge councils to consider these IPART findings for their council and hold discussions with neighbouring councils and the NSW Government so they can deliver better value for money for ratepayers now and into the future," Mr Toole said.

"The $2 billion in savings and Stronger Communities Fund will enable each council to make a decision on whether to invest their extra funds into better services, more infrastructure or lower rates for their community.

"Under this plan, waste and red tape will be reduced and local representation will be maintained."

Councils have been given a 30-day consultation window to let the government know if their position on mergers has changed.

View the IPART report card summary.

 

INITIAL REPORT 11.34am: COUNCILS across NSW will learn whether they are likely to be forced to amalgamate this afternoon.

Premier Mike Baird and Local Government Paul Toole will release the findings of IPART's review of each council's Fit for the Future proposals at noon.

It is almost certain there will be mandatory amalgamations despite initial assurances last year all mergers would be voluntary.

Mr Toole thanked councillors who would soon be left jobless when he fronted a fiery Local Government NSW annual conference in Sydney last week.

"For those of you who are completing your last term in local government, I thank you for your service to your community," he said.

He said only four of the state's 152 local governments had nominated for mergers.

"I hear councillors saying to me, 'Oh minister, that's too much. We've got a lot happening'," he said.

"I make no apology for that because we are getting on with it, and we are going to address it together."

Kyogle on the North Coast is one of the councils thought to be on the chopping block, despite local opposition.

Coffs Harbour City Council last year put its hand up for amalgamation with Clarence Valley Council last year but was turned down.

All eyes will be on IPART's final report when it goes public at noon today.

Mr Toole said all councils would know their final fate before the end of the year.

 -APN NEWSDESK



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