OUR SAY: It pays to follow council merger debate

WHILE mayors and councillors would probably argue to the death to defend their councils’ future, for the average resident, talk of council amalgamations probably provokes little interest.

The final report from the Independent Local Government Review Panel places the merger of Orange, Cabonne and Blayney councils firmly on the table, but any changes won’t be referred to the Boundaries Commission until at least 2017.

The three-year reprieve is unlikely to stop the councils concerned ramping up their efforts to be as viable and financially sustainable as possible and keeping them on their toes has to be a good thing.

For better or worse the state government has maintained its strong “no forced amalgamation” message, meaning in many ways the panel was always going to be a toothless tiger.

Thankfully the panel’s recommendations go beyond council mergers alone and in many respects it is the other reforms that would have more impact on residents’ day to day lives.

Suggestions to remove the rate pegging limit giving councils more freedom to raise rate revenue would be of concern for many ratepayers. But the panel acknowledges any change would need further review and consultation. And that is largely the problem with any reform process.

The review panel cost the state government $1.8 million and almost two years since its members were appointed, besides reiterating the “no forced amalgamations” catch cry, members of the state government have held their cards very close to their chests when it comes to deciding which recommendations to implement.

There is no argument proper process and consultation is vital, but there is also such thing as over-consultation.

Historically, ordering a review of something has been a great way for governments to appear proactive while actually doing very little. Let’s hope the important and necessary reforms of local government are not another example of this.

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