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Council change looms

Thursday, 11th September, 2014

By Andrew Robertson

A major change in the way local government operates in the Far West is a step closer with the State Government saying it supports the principle of a new model.

The government has finally released its long-awaited response to the recommendations of a review into local government.

Among recommendations of the Independent Local Government Review Panel was the establishment of a Far West Regional Authority.

The authority would involve the possible scrapping of less financially viable councils and a representative body making decisions for the region.

Funding from all three levels of government would also be pooled to reduce waste.

In its response the government says it supports the principle of a new governance model for the Far West "to ensure the needs of remote communities can be met into the future".

A forum of Far West councils is expected to be held in November "to further develop the model and approach to implementation".

A project team and reference group will also be established eventually to progress the work.

Local mayor Wincen Cuy said yesterday he hadn't yet read the report but welcomed the chance to discuss the future of local government in the far west with the state government.

"We just want to get our head around it and quite obviously meet with the government to see where we go into the future," he said.

Western Division Councils president John Medcalf said Local Government Minister Paul Toole and Minister for Western NSW Kevin Humphries were expected to attend the November forum.

He said Far West councils were struggling in the face of shrinking populations and revenues but remains upbeat about their future.

Broken Hill is one of five NSW councils considered to be in a "very weak" financial position.

"I know a lot of them are finding it hard to deliver (services) at the moment ... but hopefully with a chat and a bit of incentive we can get them back on track," said Cr Medcalf, who is also deputy mayor of Lachlan Shire Council.

The councillor said a meeting planned for next year would invite all Western Division councils and other stakeholders to have their say about the delivery of services in the future.

"We're quite happy about that; it gives us a say and also gives us a chance to get services together to see how we're gong to do that."

NSW Premier Mike Baird also yesterday committed $258 million in incentives for the state's 152 councils to merge.

Councils in the Greater Sydney area could get up to $22.5 million each for merging, while country councils could get up to $13.5 million.

Councils have until the end of the financial year to take up the offer which does not include Far West councils.

The government said far western communities instead need practical help to deal with their "complex and unique needs".

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