Gundagai takes another shot at demerger

Snowy Valleys Council.

The Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council has again petitioned the Office of Local Government for a de-amalgamation, but Snowy Valleys Council is taking the process more slowly.

During its last ordinary meeting, the SVC decided to ask the Office of Local Government for further information about the demerger process, which allows recently formed councils to apply for a demerger.

Councillor Julia Ham lives in the southern part of the council area and said that the council wants to investigate further before filing anything formal.

“We want to know what we’re asking for,” she said.

The Cootamundra Gundagai Council has already initiated what is known as the 218CC process, with a letter acknowledging their submission signed by the Minister for Local Government, Shelley Hancock.

“I note the Local Government Boundaries Commission has previously reported on the same proposal from Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council and the Government publicly released the report and its response on July 20, 2021,” she wrote.

Mayor Abb McAlister said the first attempt to de-amalgamate was led by a community group titled ‘Gundagai Council in Exile’, but that the new letters were penned by the council itself after the laws were changed to allow councils to file a submission.

Mrs Ham said she was cautious about re-starting the de-amalgamation process without something new to present to change the Minister’s mind.

“Last time we went through the Boundaries Commission it was time, it was effort, a lot of thought went into it and we got the response back that it was a flawed process.

“We don’t want to go through that again.”

Section 218CC of the Local Government Act allows councils to petition for a de-amalgamation, but Mrs Ham said she’s not confident that the Minister will change her mind without a significant new reason.

“It would be doubtful that anything will change,” she said.

In the meantime, the council is moving forward with discussions about a potential rate increase through the Special Rate Variation process. One option to help the SVC balance its books is to sell non-core assets, including several buildings in Tumbarumba, such as Roth’s Medical Centre and the Tumbarumba Basketball Stadium.

The Tumbarumba community has vociferously objected to selling Roth’s Medical Centre in the past and a new basketball association is seeking to use the stadium for community competition.

Many of those who support a de-amalgamation in Tumbarumba have pointed to the differing views of the role of government as a key reason for separating the former Tumut and Tumbarumba Shires. A major sticking point has been the differing views between the two communities on whether non-core assets should be sold or maintained by the council.

Mrs Ham said each of the so-called non-core assets would have to be evaluated on its own merits before she could support their sale. 

“Each one’s got its own case,” she said.

“The Khancoban Store would be probably sold to the people that are leasing it at the moment, and they leased it on the proviso that they would buy it… so it’s hard to make a blanket statement about asset rationalisation.”

Mrs Ham said Roth’s Medical Centre is important to the Tumbarumba community, and she said it would be a priority – in whatever decision is made – that the centre be guaranteed to run as a community medical centre well into the future.

On the topic of the basketball stadium, she said she hadn’t seen a case for it and “couldn’t see the sense of selling it at this stage.”

The SVC is still awaiting further clarification on the process of filing a 218CC application. Mrs Ham said it would likely take several months for the information to come back, which means the decision is likely to be made after the December 4 Local Government elections.

“I think it probably won’t be a question that will be asked of this council, I think that will be the next council,” she said.

The new council will also make the final decisions on whether to pursue a SRV or to find other savings, through measures such as selling non-core assets or reducing services.