AMALGAMATION and rate pegging were the hot topics at the Local Government Association Conference in Dubbo yesterday and, according to the opposition, Orange isn’t safe.
Opposition spokeswoman for local government Sophie Cotsis stopped in Orange on her way back from the conference to imply no regional council was safe.
She said she was against amalgamations and rate-peg increases, saying the financial stability of councils could be assured if the Division of Local Government educated smaller councils on how to apply for grant funding.
“I’m concerned which councils Barry O’Farrell will amalgamate,” she said.
“Will it be Dubbo or Orange or Cabonne?”
“He’s got to rule out these amalgamations and talk to the ratepayers about what the ratepayers want.”
Member for Orange Andrew Gee dismissed Ms Cotsis’ claims, saying the Labor Party and the unions were fearmongering.
“The Labor Party are the kings of forced amalgamations with no consultation,” he said.
Mr Gee said the reason the government and the Independent Local Government Review Panel were investigating the financial sustainability of councils was because the Local Government and Shires Association asked for it.
“I think all we’ve seen is blatant fearmongering coming from the party that forced councils across NSW to amalgamate. I don’t think Ms Cotsis or her party have any credibility,” he said.
Ms Cotsis said she wanted to see the government chip in financially to help struggling councils.
“I want to see the Division of Local Government delivering and helping smaller councils in the way they apply for grants, helping them in managing their finances and assests, rather than a couple of bureaucrats sitting in the Illawarra,” she said.
Mr Gee said the Labor Party had 16 years to achieve that goal.
Central West Union Alliance spokesperson Joe Marric said the group was deeply concerned the government was trying to force councils into amalgamation by merging regional water utilities. The state government would have control over these utilities.
He said the move would eventually mean higher water prices.
“The impact is going to be that they won’t have that revenue stream coming in from water and waste, which means most of the smaller councils will not be viable any further and they will have no option but to be forced into an amalgamation with other councils,” Mr Marric said.
“And with the bigger councils, there’s no prize in it for them either. They’ve got to take on smaller councils, plus the lost revenue.”