SNOWY Valley Council will have to foot the bill if it wants to proceed with de-amalgamation under new proposed legislation by the Minns’ Labor Government.
Local Government Minister Ron Hoenig introduced legislation to parliament on Tuesday that creates a legal pathway for councils to demerge.
Under this proposed legislation:
• Councils must present a business case demonstrating their financial sustainability including funding their own de-amalgamation to the Boundaries Commission
• The Minister has to approve the demerger before a vote is held amongst residents.
The proposed change (not yet law) comes while communities in Tumbarumba, Cootamundra-Gundagai, Hilltops and Bombala continuing to campaign for council de-amalgamation and the restoration of local democracy.
Snowy Valley Council Mayor Cr Ian Chaffey said yesterday at this point in time we (council) don’t know if there is any saving clause in the proposed new legislation, but for the fact that it is not law as yet.
“We are not sure whether this new legislation applies to those bases that were in train for demerging or not, we are not sure – we have no idea!
“And I’m not sure the government does either,” Cr Chaffey said.
“This could possibly be a delaying tactic, but it could be one of the problems is that there are a number of merged councils in NSW that (reportedly 19) are experiencing financial stress as a result of the merger.
“The problem is if you embark on demerging there would be a significant cost to the government especially if all 19 merged councils proceed to be demerged.
“The thing that I find most gauling is that we have found ourselves in the dilemma through no making of our own and now the government – and I realise this government was not responsible for the mergers – but the NSW Government is expecting the ratepayers cover the cost to fixing what is a catastrophic mess in my opinion,” he said.
“We had some preliminary discussions with the Minister and suggested it wasn’t just one size for all, there were alternative ways of addressing the issue.
“However, the Government has been catapaulted into action because the Greens Member Dr Amanda Cohn presented a private members bill – they (the government) realised they’ve got a dilemma out there and don’t know how they fix it.”
Cr Chaffey said the cost of demerging could be spread over a considerable amount of time but if you look back to the days of Tumut Council and the Tumbarumba Council they were not an outstanding success but they were financial – they were not outstanding but they were not broke.
“If you look at the councils that were not merged eg. Junee, Temora, Lockhart, Coolamon all in our neck of the woods they have not gone broke,” Cr Chaffey said.
“They are not experiencing the financial stress that Federation, Hilltops, Cootamundra- Gundagai, Snowy Valleys and Snowy Monaro as merged councils have.
“You could understand if there were only two or three experiencing struggles but all merged councils are in the same position,” Cr Chaffey said.
“When they are all in the same dilemma you have to think the model is flawed.
“It would be nice to have some consistency so we could actually sit down and work out if it is a practical solution to our problem and then how do we go about it.
“It is what it is – I personally believe we’ve got to do the exercise and put the opposition to bed once and for all.
“Let’s stop pondering – if it will work let’s get on with it because at the moment it is a mess,” Cr Chaffey said.
“There might be people out there that will disagree.
“It’s time for the government to step up; I’m sure they are aware of the problems – it is they just don’t want to face it.”
At a round table discussion at Gundagai on Monday, January 29, Greens MLC and spokesperson for Local Government Dr Amanda Cohn said she was backing councils that wanted to demerge.
In late 2023 Dr Cohn presented an amendment to Legislation which would allow binding plebiscites to be held in relation to the de-amalgamation of local councils that would be funded by the NSW Government.
This amended bill had the supp of a majority of the legislative Council cross-bench and was expected to be debated again in March.
However, Minister Hoenig’s new legislation may now surpass that amendment.
“Failed amalgamations were an expensive mess that the NSW Government created and they’re a mess that the state should be cleaning up,” Dr Cohn said.
“Instead, this proposed legislation takes councils one step forward legally but two steps back because of the financial burden it poses for them to fund their own de-amalgamation.
“Impacted communities have already paid the cost for forced amalgamations through inefficiency, cuts to local services and weakened local democracy.
“The Minister had refused to progress any legislative change as recently as November 2023.