A ‘Super Council’ made up of the Coffs Harbour City, Bellingen Shire, Clarence Valley, Kempsey Shire, Nambucca Shire and Port Macquarie Hastings Councils. How do you feel about that?
By ‘The Contrarian’
Recently the Coffs Coast Advocate ran a story about a looming deadline that the Coffs Harbour City Council (CHCC) had to meet to satisfy requests from the State Government about being part of a new ‘Super Council’. Earlier in February The Advocate also ran another story headed; ‘Will we soon be governed by a new super council?’
Both articles appear to infer, at least from their headlines, that forced Council amalgamations are back on the agenda in the regions. Certainly some of the comments published below the stories clearly show that is how it has been understood by some readers.
But are forced amalgamations back on the agenda? And if so how did they get this far without consultation and more media coverage?
Well the answer to my first question above is ‘No’. Forced Council amalgamations are not currently happening in the regions in NSW. What is happening is that regional NSW Councils are being asked by the State Government to respond to proposals the regional Councils form what is known as a Joint Organisation.
The State government explains that Joint Organisations (JOs) are “a key NSW Government commitment to build stronger councils and improve service delivery and infrastructure across rural and regional communities.
The Local Government Amendment (Regional Joint Organisations) Act 2017 commenced on 15 December 2017 allowing councils to voluntarily join new JOs in their planning region.”
JO’s are designed to provide a forum for local councils and State agencies to collaborate, plan, set priorities and deliver regionally significant important projects.
The NSW Government is providing a rather miserly $3.3 million in seed funding to establish JOs which they say will focus on the issues that matter most to regional communities. These could include building stronger businesses, creating jobs, securing water supplies, improving regional transport, or providing community infrastructure, services and facilities.
Now I can see issues here. Is the geographic area too big? Could oversize egos get in the way? Will the JOs be able to logically prioritise and operationalise their key issues? There’s quite a few more.
But at this point the Councils need to let the State Government know by 28 February if they wish to participate in the proposed Mid-North Coast JOs or not. The CHCC has asked for an extension on the 28 February date. Which is not the ‘greatest look’ given the proposals and work on it has been ongoing for over the best part of a year now. Still maybe it is better to spend a little more time on it.
An excellent article in the Nambucca Guardian News highlights the Nambucca Shire Council has voted to be part of the Mid North Coast JOs. The Bellingen Shire Council also discussed it at its meeting of 30 January, wherein, according to The Courier-Sun the Mayor, Cr King, spoke in favour of the proposed MNC-JOs and “emphasised the benefits of joint buying power, regional advocacy and improved delivery of infrastructure and services”.
So the proposed JOs has some potential upside in regards to economies of scale which I think ratepayers would approve of given the constant rise in rates over the years many of which have been well in advance of the inflation rate..
But a ‘Super Council’, the result of some forced amalgamation, this is not. The Advocate’s headlines on this have been pretty misleading in my opinion.
Sure, those wary of forced council amalgamations after the State Governments last botched attempt at them need to be wary. “This is a slippery slope to an amalgamated council” Councillor David Jones said in Nambucca. It might be unless you make 100% sure it isn’t a tool to make that happen.
The Contrarian has lived on the Coffs Coast for 21 years. Among a number of other things during that time he/she has also worked as a consultant on regional projects with the private sector and also with Councils in the Northern Territory, Queensland, New South Wales and New Zealand. She/he previously wrote articles for the old Outlook on matters pertaining to local government.