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Mayor pans plans

Friday, 10th January, 2014

By Erica Visser

It’s too soon to say whether major plans mooted for Far West NSW would help or hinder the region, but at least one key figure has met them with scepticism.

The NSW Government on Wednesday released a report by its commissioned Independent Local Government Review Panel that made recommendations to improve governance across the state.

Many urban councils would be forced to amalgamate but a broader vision was laid out for the Far West.

While there were alternative recommendations, the panel said the best way forward was to form an overall Far West Regional Authority; but no one is certain how this would operate alongside Broken Hill City Council.

Central Darling Shire, whose Council has been suspended, may become unincorporated with the option for Sunset Strip, Menindee and Silverton to become part of Broken Hill.

Ray Longfellow was acting as mayor during the consultation period for the report and said yesterday he was “very sceptical” about how the planned changes would benefit the region.

“My personal opinion, having only read parts of the report, is that I don’t believe a lot of these suggestions would work favourably,” Mr Longfellow said.

“With the (Regional Authority), if you’ve got a table with a lot of people sitting around, how are they going to come to an agreement?”

The Authority would bring together community leaders, mayors, Aboriginal leaders and State Government representatives for across the region.

“A group of people have come up with these ideas but there’s no dollars and cents going into them,” Mr Longfellow said.

“It sounds flowery on paper but how will it work in reality?

“That’s what it’s got to come down to; are the residents going to be better off?”

BH Mayor Wincen Cuy said that Council needed to be “open minded” regarding the recommendations.

But he stressed that a new authority or extended boundary should not take funding opportunities away from Broken Hill.

“I think we shouldn’t discount anything that’s been put forward as long as it’s understood to benefit Broken Hill,” Mayor Cuy said.

“What (the panel has) done is they’ve actually put together an idea and now it’s up to us to investigate whether it’s feasible and whether it’s beneficial to us.”

Mayor Cuy said that forming a regional authority was not a new idea, but there were some potential concerns.

“We’ve been thinking about it for some time, we’re not quite sure how it would work along with Council.

“One thing is to make sure we’re not creating another level of bureaucracy.

“This authority could be used to create policies from the ground up rather than having legislation parachuted in from Macquarie Street with the expectation that we implement it.”

Mayor Cuy said the city’s boundaries should only be extended if Broken Hill benefits.

“My strongest point is that the City Council should in no way be disadvantaged by taking these things on,” he said.

“I think the authority would be a very complex thing to go through but I think it could possibly work as long as (Council) weren’t deprived of any of its grants.

“There needs to be an understanding that any budgetary money wouldn’t be reduced and if some inefficiencies were corrected the money would go back into other things locally.”

Mayor Cuy said it would be up to Broken Hill to lead the authority, but state agencies would need to make adjustments, too.

“I’ve spoken to (Minister for Local Government Don Page) about this. Whilst local government needs to make significant changes, there’s no point unless the state agencies make the changes as well so we don’t have a crossover,” he said.

“We can’t have two different police zones, different health areas, or two different DOCS (NSW Department of Community Services) regions.

“We need a standard area and this is not about us falling in line with (state agencies) but them meeting us.”

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