“The government continues to support the merger and the benefits that it is delivering for both the Gundagai and Cootamundra communities.
“I appreciate you will find this news disappointing...”
These are the words of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian in an official letter to Gundagai Council in Exile Chairperson Dr Paul Mara AM.
On May 4 this year, Dr Mara, together with other Gundagai Council in Exile representatives including former mayor of the town Abb McAlister travelled to Sydney to meet with Ms Berejiklian, Minister for Local Government Gabrielle Upton and Member for Cootamundra Katrina Hodgkinson.
“She certainly heard us out," Mr McAlister said a day after the meeting.
Fast-forward three weeks, to May 31 and Dr Mara was informed of Ms Berejiklian’s commitment to the amalgamation.
The letter was not made public until this week.
Dr Mara and the Gundagai Council in Exile had been asking for Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council to immediately be placed in caretaker mode with a view to de-merge the council in time for September’s election.
Ms Berejiklian told Dr Mara, that like him, she wants to see country towns like Gundagai thrive and grow, not just survive.
“I recognise that the former Gundagai Council worked with passion and dedication to service its community. I also recognise the importance of local identity, representation and local services that are crucial to the future of towns like Gundagai,” Ms Berejiklian said.
The premier dismissed claims from the Gundagai Council in Exile that Gundagai was in the same boat as other rural shires which saw their amalgamations not go ahead due to existing court proceedings.
Gundagai Shire Council’s court proceedings were cut short when Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council administrator at the time Christine Ferguson rescinded funding.
“Regardless of the decision of the administrator, Gundagai Council was in a different position to Oberon and Cabonne, having commenced legal proceedings after the merger had occurred,” Ms Berejiklian said.
She went on to sing the praises of the combined council.
“I am advised that Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council is delivering new services to the community, such as extended opening hours at Gundagai Library, additional street sweeping services and more specialist staff available in areas like horticulture,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“The council has also distributed $1 million in grants to local groups to work on community projects. I am further aware that the new council is seeking to deliver major infrastructure improvements, such as the new sewerage treatment plant in Gundagai, and the rebuilding of the Dog on the Tuckerbox facilities,” she continued.
The Cootamundra Herald has contacted Dr Mara for his response to the letter and we will update this story when we hear back.
The response from a number of former Gundagai Shire Councillors to enquiries from the Cootamundra Herald this week is they remain undecided about whether to pursue a future on Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council.