'Painful adjustments' need to be made for councils at risk
MERGERS, rigorous spending cuts and rate rises are among the "painful adjustments" Northern NSW communities will have to accept if their councils are to survive, a Local Government Review has revealed.
The independent review, commissioned by NSW Local Government Minister Don Page, found the majority of councils between the Mid North Coast and Queensland border were in a "serious state of affairs".
Coffs Harbour, Clarence Valley, Richmond Valley, Byron and Kyogle were considered to be most at risk.
Misdirected polices on both a state and government level, lack of technical and financial expertise, inadequate, inconsistent data and poor long term planning were blamed for the weak outlook.
The review panel also noted difficult weather conditions, scattered populations, rural hinterlands requiring networks or roads and bridges and population growth had added to the pressure.
While adhering to the government's "no forced amalgamations" policy, the panel stressed there was "simply not enough revenue or sufficient numbers of skilled staff" to support the number of current councils in NSW and urged the community to accept some change would be necessary.
The amalgamation of smaller councils around the major regional centres of Lismore and Coffs Harbour was suggested as medium to long-term solution.
Fixing finances, however, was at the top of the list.It was accepted North Coast councils had been stunted by "limited financial capacity and inadequate funding" in the past but the report found councils could not be saved simply by increasing government grants.
"Taxpayers cannot be expected to support councils that are unnecessarily small, lack capacity and build unnecessary costs into the system," it read"Mergers should be pursued where they can".
Further "uncomfortable" measures including "accelerated increases in rates and redistribution of grant funding" were also flagged as solutions to councils' financial woes.
Mr Page said the panel had made a convincing case that "no change is not an option" and urged residents to review the report and make submissions to the government by the end of June.
The report, which includes full drafts of suggested boundary changes, is available at www.localgovernmentreview.nsw.gov.au.
A final report is expected back by September.