Mayors at odds over council amalgamations

ORANGE’S growth relies on the tourist destinations and major industries in Cabonne and Blayney, not the other way round, according to Cabonne mayor Ian Gosper.

It’s a fact Orange mayor John Davis does not deny, but he believes Cabonne, Blayney and Orange operate on a regional basis and if Cabonne wants to remain a single entity it needs to worry about remaining viable.

The release of the Independent Local Government Review Panel’s final report has Cabonne, Blayney and Orange councils again defending their futures.

The mayors of all three were not surprised amalgamation remained on the table, albeit with no consideration until 2017, when the panel recommends it be referred to the Boundaries Commission.

For the first time Cabonne has been given an option to avoid amalgamation, Cr Gosper said, despite the report being negative about Cabonne’s future saying its growth was overspill from Orange. 

“Maybe Orange’s growth is overspill from Cabonne,” he said. 

“Most of the wineries and most of the tourist destinations are in Cabonne ... even the [Cadia] mine is not in Orange.”

Although he would be happy for Orange to continue on its own, Cr Davis believes the three merged councils could be a powerhouse.

But the panel suggests Blayney could continue as a separate council for several decades, a concept he does not support.

“If Cabonne came and not Blayney we’d argue against that. We’d rather stay as we were, or as a combination,” he said.

Cr Gosper said the report suggested the panel was backing away from amalgamations, instead proposing resource-sharing through Joint Organisations.

“It’s what we’ve been doing with the WBC (Wellington, Blayney, Cabonne) Alliance for years,” he said.

When the Joint Organisations were proposed as county councils in the panel’s last report Cr Davis was critical of the model, but he now believes there is a good case for strengthening regional organisations of councils like “the most successful” Centroc.

“In the corridors of Macquarie Street and Canberra [Centroc] has got funds for not only Orange, but the other member councils,” he said.

Cr Davis said doing nothing to reform local government was not an option, as increasing council workloads and infrastructure backlogs for many of the state’s 150-plus councils showed the system was broken.

But the “elephant in the room” was the lack of state or federal funds to encourage council reform especially amalgamations.

“For financial councils to amalgamate with less financial councils is a hell of a challenge for the councils and for the communities, because what we’re saying is the ratepayers of the successful councils will have to subsidise other councils to get it up that standard,” he said.

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