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Councils fear reforms delay

Tuesday, 1st April, 2014

By Andrew Robertson

The body that represents the State’s 152 councils fears the O’Farrell government may not begin its reform of local government before the next NSW election.

Broken Hill City Council, along with Central Darling Shire and Wentworth councils, yesterday had its last chance to comment on the Local Government Review Panel’s final report.

The deadline for comments closes on Friday and Local Government NSW (LGNSW) is holding the last of its consultation forums with councils before making its submission. 

LGNSW president Keith Rhoades said that of the 65 recommendations made by the review panel as part of its final report, Revitalising Local Government, some 32 were “sitting quite well with councils”. 

Cr Rhoades said among the recommendations that had received widespread support was the establishment of a finance authority that would provide loans to councils.    

A review into the rating structure was another recommendation to receive the backing of councils, according to Mr Rhoades, who was in the city for yesterday’s forum.   

He said the government could be implementing many of the recommendations now to get the much-needed reform underway. 

But Cr Rhoades fears that, with the next election due next March, the government may be reluctant to make any changes that had the potential to damage it politically.     

“If the whole report was shelved that would be shocking, that would be a tragedy because there are good things happening.”

Cost-shifting was another area that needed to be addressed by the government, according to Cr Rhoades, who said some many rural communities were providing services that were once provided by the state government.

“There’re things that the state government has passed over to councils over the years but never given the financial backing or assistance for that service to be provided,” he said. 

“So it’s just been more strain on the budget.”

But he said amalgamations should not part of any government solution to the problems facing remote councils. 

“You don’t get two sick councils and put them together and say they’ll get better soon.

“It’s a matter of you’ve got to have incentives and incentives can only come in one form and that’s financial incentives.”

Cr Rhoades also said there was little support among councils for the proposed western region authority, as it was seen as simply adding another layer of governance.

But BH City Council general manager Therese Manns yesterday backed the recommendation or at least further investigation into the proposal.

“The Western Region Authority model is the most significant recommendation for change in the Far West and Councils attending today certainly thought there was benefit for our communities in being open minded and being at the table for further discussions about this concept,” Ms Manns said.

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