Proposed Council mergers revealed
Premier Mike Baird and the Minister for Local Government Paul Toole have announced the NSW Government’s plan to reform Local Government by proposing mergers for Sydney metropolitan and regional and rural Councils.
The proposal has unveiled 35 new councils across NSW. In Greater Sydney, the Government is proposing 15 new councils, reducing the total number of metropolitan councils from 43 to 25. In regional NSW, 20 new councils are proposed, reducing the total number of regional councils from 109 to 87.
The proposed mergers have been informed by four years of consultation with Councils, independent assessment, council merger preferences and feedback from communities. Independent analysis by the accounting firm, KPMG, found that proposed mergers could result in up to $2 billion in efficiencies and savings, which could be invested in infrastructure, services and reduced rates.
To facilitate the merger process, the Government is utilising existing processes set out in the Local Government Act 1993.
Currently, merger proposals are being finalised and will then be referred to the Chief Executive of the Office of Local Government. The Chief Executive will examine the proposals and produce a report under the existing process set out in the Act. The Chief Executive will then appoint qualified delegates, who will commence a public consultation process for all 35 proposals.
Details of how the review of merger proposals will be conducted will be made available in January 2016.
Following the consultation and review stage, final proposals will be referred to the Boundaries Commission for comment.
As a result of the merger process, Councils would be placed into a period of administration between May 2016 and March 2017. It is likely that Council elections would be postponed from September 2016 to March 2017.
Incentive to merge
Councils facing mergers will be offered up to $10 million toward the costs of transition to ensure ratepayers do not bear the upfront merger costs, as well as a maximum of $15 million to go towards community infrastructure.
The funding will be allocated from the NSW Government’s Stronger Communities Fund.
The Government has stated that the proposed mergers will result in the following key benefits:
- For four years after merging, rates will be frozen at existing paths
- Greater capacity to manage the infrastructure backlog
- Savings that can support investment in critical local infrastructure and services and/or be utilised to address rate pressures
- A stronger balance sheet to meet local community needs and priorities
As part of the wider local government reforms, the system currently used to calculate council rates will be reviewed by Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal of NSW (IPART).
Rates that are currently calculated on a land value basis may be changed to be calculated on property value. This will have the effect of inner-city apartment owners paying higher rates compared with homeowners in regional areas or suburbs.
The 15 new councils in Greater Sydney will be created by merging 33 councils. The Government has provided the following rationale for the proposed metropolitan mergers:
- Too many councils in Sydney
- Four years of consultation
- Reduced red-tape
- Councils should reflect communities of sufficient size to better represent their needs
- Joining common characteristics and connections
The proposed mergers have generated significant backlash from Councillors and local communities. Some Councils in the metropolitan area have indicated that they are considering legal action against the Government in respect of possible mergers.
In Greater Sydney, the following mergers have been proposed:
- Ashfield, Leichhardt and Marrickville
- Auburn and Holroyd
- Bankstown and Canterbury
- Botany Bay and Rockdale
- Burwood, Canada Bay and Strathfield
- Gosford and Wyong
- Hawkesbury and The Hills
- Hornsby and Ku-ring-gai
- Hunters Hill, Lane Cove and Ryde
- Hurstville and Kogarah
- Manly, Mosman and Warringah
- North Sydney and Willoughby
- Parramatta (new boundaries to include Sydney Olympic Park)
- Pittwater and Warringah
- Randwick, Waverly and Woollahra
The 20 new councils in Regional NSW will be created by merging 42 councils. The Government has provided the following rationale for the proposed regional mergers:
- Small and declining populations
- The need to grow regional centres
- Four years of consultation
- Joining communities with common characteristics and connections
In rural and regional areas, the following mergers have been proposed:
- Armidale–Dumaresq and Guyra
- Bathurst and Oberon
- Berrigan and Jerilderie
- Blayney, Cabonne and Orange
- Bombala, Cooma-Monaro and Snowy
- Boorowa, Harden and Young
- Conargo and Deniliquin
- Cootamundra and Gundagai
- Corowa, Lockhart and Urana
- Dubbo and Wellington
- Dungong and Gloucester
- Goulburn Mulwaree and Palerang
- Jerilderie and Murrumbidgee
- Kiama and Shoalhaven
- Murray and Wakool
- Newcastle and Port Stephens
- Palerang and Queanbeyan
- Shellharbour and Wollongong
- Tamworth and Walcha
- Tumbarumba and Tumut
A map of the proposed Metropolitan and Regional and Rural Council areas can be downloaded here.