NO RUSH: Bathurst MP Paul Toole said the NSW Government was not unfairly rushing councils to make a decision about their future.CLAIMS the NSW Government was unfairly rushing councils to make a decision on their future are ridiculous, says the man charged with ensuring the long-term viability of local government.
Bathurst MP and Minister for Local Government Paul Toole yesterday said it was more than three years now since all 152 NSW councils decided at a forum in Dubbo that change was needed to ensure the sector’s survival.
Mr Toole was responding to claims by University of New England academics Brian Dollery and Joseph Drew that councils had been given “an incredibly short period of time to explore voluntary amalgamations” ahead of a June 30 deadline for submissions to the government.
But Mr Toole said the deadline was needed so that councils that did wish to go down the path of amalgamation could do so before the next local government elections in September 2016.
“This has not been rushed because it has come after three years of study,” he said.
“Councils have until June 30 to talk about ways to ensure their financial sustainability and how they’re going to deal with infrastructure backlogs while also providing services back to their communities.
“There are councils having a conversation with each other about possible amalgamations but what we have also said is that they have to have a conversation with their communities.”
The academics’ opinion piece, published in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald, also suggested an amalgamation between Bathurst and Oberon would cost Oberon residents millions.
“If Oberon and Bathurst councils amalgamate, the residents of Oberon will inherit $22 million in outstanding loans and spend another $72 million to bring Bathurst’s assets up to standard,” they wrote.
“Yet the government is offering only $5 million for non-metropolitan mergers. This would leave Oberon residents almost $90 million out of pocket.”
Mr Toole said it appeared the academics’ $72 million figure reflected Bathurst Regional Council’s existing infrastructure backlog and said it was plainly ridiculous to argue that that debt would be borne only by Oberon residents if the two councils amalgamated.
“The government is offering a $5 million incentive to councils to amalgamate and it would be up to the newly formed council how that might be spent,” he said. “But the new council would also have access to a state borrowing authority that would allow it to borrow funds at a lower interest rate to help clear infrastructure backlogs.
“What I want to see is stronger councils across the state.”
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