THE body that represents 12 Riverina councils has slammed the state government’s decision to force half of its member councils to merge.
Riverina Eastern Regional Organisation of Councils (REROC), a 20-year-old group, is one of five trial Joint Organisations (JO), which is likely to shape the structure of local government in NSW.
But the release of forced council amalgamations last Friday has plunged into jeopardy REROC’s future plans.
“Now there’s another four months of uncertainty until amalgamations are sorted out,” REROC chair Julie Briggs said.
“From our perspective, half of our (member councils) are affected by this, so in the context of us looking at our long-term plan on what councils will be involved with what activities, it is going to be very difficult.
“With so much uncertainty, it’s going to make it somewhat challenging for REROC to deliver some of the activities that we normally would.”
Mrs Briggs said Coolamon remaining standalone as a rural council could pose a challenge as there was no clear definition of what the rural council model is.
“If there’s ongoing uncertainty, it is difficult to go forward,” Mrs Briggs said.
“Some of the decisions don’t really make sense.”
She questioned why Lockhart would be forced to merge with Urana and Corowa, which would mean councillors would have to drive up to 120km for a meeting.
Merging Cootamundra with Gundagai came as a shock as the independent panel did not suggest that and Cootamundra and Harden were willing to amalgamate with one another, she added.
Such decisions suggested the government failed to actually listen to what the community wanted, Mrs Briggs said.
“Is this a way to achieve try democratic representation effectively?” she asked.
“On top of everything else, there’s no concrete evidence that bigger is actually better or that it will bring any improvements at all.”
The state government estimates the Cootamundra and Gundagai merge will yield in $440,000 savings by 2020, while the Young, Harden and Booroowa merge will generate $1 million in savings in the same period.
“Is it worth ripping these communities apart?” Mrs Briggs questioned.
“It’s another year of uncertainty. We’ll drop down to seven or eight councils.”
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