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SSC Newspaper : SS July 2013
Strathfield Scene 11 www.ourstrathfield.com.au the big issue “Experience in other states and the results of community surveys suggest that increases of $1 to $2 per week would be acceptable for most NSW ratepayers.” — Government review panel acknowledging rate pegging has had a detrimental impact on the finances of NSW councils. Unfortunately, any proposals within the report that may be worthy of consideration or improve local government processes are overshadowed by the panel’s wish to impose radical change on local government, stating the “option to change is not an option”. Council does not support the idea put forward by the panel that the local government system is in such poor condition that the only solution is radical change. The report is sprinkled with patronising comments about local government and its representatives, which are unnecessary in a report commissioned by the state government. Council is not opposed to constructive change and welcomes improvements to the local government sector. However, it is unwilling to endorse proposals that will reduce local representative democracy, increase costs for ratepayers and residents without justification and turn local government into an inaccessible apparatus of the state government. Strathfield Council remains the tier of government closest to the community. Local government binds individuals and communities in ways that are unachievable by any other institution. The ability of communities to exercise democratic control over their local environment and services empowers communities and builds respect, pride and liveability. Recent engagements with our local community in developing our community strategic plan “Strathfield 2025” as well as community representations on local government reform proposals have constantly raised the importance to the community of localism. SuStainability & Finance The panel states that revenue is a critical issue to ensure the financial sustainability of local councils and that rate pegging has adversely affected this. However, the panel does not recommend the removal of rate pegging, saying that a “proposal to abolish it completely may well provide unacceptable at this time”. Given that the panel proposes radical change in the local government system in NSW throughout its report and argues that change is necessary for financial sustainability, the recommendation to maintain rate pegging is astounding. The panel references the TCorp reports and the overly pessimistic outlook of long-term financial sustainability of councils, but also states “experience in other states and the results of community surveys suggest that increases of $1 to $2 per week would be acceptable for most NSW ratepayers”. This should be sufficient to address many problems identified by TCorp. better governance Council strongly supports the ongoing professional development of councillors, which is consistent with the current approach taken by Strathfield Council. Council supports improved clarification of the role of mayor and acknowledges that this role is to provide strategic leadership across the community. Many of the roles indicated by the panel are already in existence through practice or policy eg. spokesperson on behalf of council, representative in regional forums. Structural reForm The panel proposes reducing the number of councils in the Sydney basin to about There are a host of proposals that establish new bureaucratic structures to guarantee some semblance of local representation in megacouncils 15 and create major new cities of Sydney, Parramatta and Liverpool, each with a population of 600,000 to 800,000. Strathfield Council engaged an independent polling company to conduct a poll of local residents and the poll, at 70 per cent, was over whelmingly opposed to the inner west group proposal. Council’s mayor and general manager have also met with their counterparts in Ashfield, Bur wood and Canada Bay. The group is opposed to forced amalgamations. county council modelS Clearly the panel’s preferred option for regional governance is amalgamation, but as an alternative the panel has also proposed utilising existing county council provisions in the Local Government Act to establish county councils on a regional basis. The panel states that a county council would provide a “robust, statutor y framework” in preference to Regional Organisation of Councils (ROCs), which are voluntary alliances that determine by agreement their operations and scope. The panel report also indicates that county councils could take over functions of state and federal agencies. voluntary mergerS The panel has suggested introducing a package of incentives for voluntary mergers offering a higher level of support to “early movers”. If incentives for councils to merge are available, why not provide similar assistance to councils to improve efficiencies and sustainability? The Independent Local Government Panel “Future Directions” Options paper continues with the theme from its previous paper – that local government in NSW is simply not up to the task of meeting challenges, is weighed down with “too many outdated ideas, attitudes and relationships” and there are “too many councils chasing too few resources”. The panel proposes significant change to local government, such as amalgamations and the formation of megacouncils, especially in metropolitan areas, which could involve councils with populations of 600,000 to 800,000. In lieu of amalgamations, the panel also proposes new tiers of governance, such as county councils in metro areas, which will add another layer to local government. There are a host of proposals that establish new bureaucratic structures to guarantee some semblance of local representation in megacouncils. The fact that much of the proposed reform is predicated on the basis of improving financial sustainability and capacity of the sector is astonishing. The panel is proposing new structures with no costed estimates, but paid for by councils. There are proposals to shift revenue from urban councils to regional councils, expecting councils to increase own- source revenue while maintaining tight controls on revenue capacity, such as the rate pegging system, despite the panel Strathfield Council was 128 years old last month. With its existence under attack, councillors fired off an 18-page submission to the state government’s review panel, headed by Graham Sansom, explaining why megacouncils won’t work. Professor Graham Sansom claims his panel is operating within the state government’s pledge of no forced amalgamations. facts Strathfield was proclaimed on June 2, 1885, by the Governor of NSW, Sir Augustus Loftus, after residents of the Redmyre area petitioned the New South Wales state government At the time of incorporation the population of the municipality was estimated at 600 and the net revenue was £1,210. Today, according to the latest Community Strategic Plan, the area is one of the fastest growing and culturally diverse. The population was 37,141 one year ago – and will be 45,855 in 2026. It has one of the highest performing housing markets, is the education centre of the inner west and has plans for major growth. This is an edited extract of Strathfield Council’s submission. Why mega councilS juSt don’t Work