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SSC Newspaper : May 2013
Strathfield Scene 11 www.ourstrathfield.com.au the big issue By Helen McLucas, co-chair Strathfield Council anti-amalgamation taskforce The Independent Local Government Review Panel Report says councils are broken and, as expected, recommends amalgamation of Strathfield with Burwood, Ashfield and Canada Bay. Even Leichhardt and Marrickville are thrown into the pot. But Strathfield councillors and residents do not believe the report’s claims. Far from being broke, we are thriving. We are financially sound and asset rich. Our rates are among the lowest in Sydney. We work closely with residents and we are efficient. Councils’ business is the three “R s” of roads, rates and rubbish. Mega- councils’ business is infrastructure and development. Who will look after the three Rs in a mega-council? No one. Does that matter? Sure does! In amalgamated councils residents are not happy with the new service levels. Witness this report from Sydney’s Daily Telegraph. A senior Queensland Liberal National Party MP, the first mayor of the Gold Coast super council, has warned amalgamated councils could potentially deliver rate and water bill spikes and decrease day-to-day efficiencies. Ray Stevens [now Manager of Government Business] said bloated bureaucracies and parochial infighting had done the opposite of what the Goss Government intended when it merged Albert Shire and Gold Coast City councils in 1995. “There was a case put forward that you would see economies of scale as a result of amalgamation, but that wasn’t proven to be the case. The residents have suffered financially through rates and water bills,” Mr Stevens said. He said the council area was bigger than Tasmania and had a budget of $1.3 billion. Since amalgamation, the council’s staff levels have soared above 3000 bureaucrats. “There is a real negative in the way the organisation becomes a much bigger enterprise, which makes it difficult for members to have contact with their constituency. The residents suffer,” he said. Mr Stevens said there would also be public opposition to beefed-up salaries and perks. When he was Albert Shire mayor, Mr Stevens received $75,000. The salary for current Gold Coast mayor Tom Tate is $212,000. So what are the main impacts of amalgamation on Strathfield residents? Here’s what we believe you can expect: • Decline in service delivery • Skyrocketing rates • Loss of local jobs • Removal of pension rate rebates • Extra levies to pay for fulltime mayors, extra levels of government, etc • Loss of local representation • The rates you pay won’t stay in Strathfield • A new tax to fund infrastructure, normally paid for by developers. Like a doctor or tradesperson, council is only needed when residents want help. For example, when a pile of rubbish is illegally dumped in your driveway or on your nature strip, trees are overgrown and blocking footpaths, paving has come loose and is dangerous to the elderly or those with a disability, or the road outside your house is breaking up and gravel is being sprayed over your car, breaking windows and damaging paint work. I have addressed all of these issues with residents and all were fixed the same day via our R apid Response Team, or within a few weeks, including road repairs. When residents have an urgent issue, they want to talk to someone straight away. They phone councillors, talk directly to them and we escalate issues as appropriate. That level of service will disappear in a mega-council. How will you receive priority if you are in a queue of 200,000 residents? If amalgamated, Strathfield will face a minimum 23 per cent immediate rate increase. In addition to the usual CPI increase of 3.6 per cent, Strathfield’s rates would need to rise by 17 per cent to catch up with neighbouring councils. Then there is a further 3 per cent minimum increase recommended in the report through lifting the rate-pegging limit. Regular rate increases will then occur because merging councils is expensive and our neighbouring councils are financially distressed with no or little asset base, unlike Strathfield. Another significant cost to be borne by rate payers is paying fulltime councillors and executive mayors, as advocated in the report. These fulltime positions will all be paid big dollars, plus they will receive new support staff, cars, travel, etc. Yet another new cost you and I will be charged for is a planned six extra tiers of local government that we will be required to be funded through our rates and new levies. The new tiers include community committees, wards, citizen e-panels, local boards, county councils and a metropolitan council of mayors. Too many levels, too confusing and just more red tape. Where is the benefit to residents? Where are families supposed to find the extra money to fund these unnecessary changes? The report suggests removing rate subsides for pensioners and proposes pensioners defer rate payments as a charge against their family home. Where are pensioners expected to find this extra money? Council is a significant local employer offering jobs from ser vice, engineering, planning and even in the library. These jobs are at risk. The report proposes an executive mayor who has power over council’s general manager. It also suggests this mayor be a politician. Imagine an executive mayor with a political agenda, without the appropriate experience in charge of the multimillion dollar business that is council. If amalgamated Strathfield will face a minimum ofa23per cent immediate rate increase “Welcome to Strathwood Mega Council. Your call isn’t important to us. Join the queue of 200,000 and wait your turn...” signing the pledge: strathfield councillors with save our strathfield co-chairs karen pensabene (left) and nella gaughan. hoW our rateS CoMpare CounCil 2010/11 rates Strathfield $749.50 Ashfield $917.00 Burwood $906.96 Canada Bay $786.70