Councils look to avoid mergers

QUEANBEYAN and Palerang councils have recently discussed resource sharing initiatives in an attempt to sidestep any potential amalgamations recommended in the New South Wales' Government's forthcoming review into local government.

The specialist review panel is looking to consolidate the 152 councils in NSW as part of a root and branch overhaul of local government, and will recommend amalgamations or mergers where it deems them appropriate.

Queanbeyan general manager Gary Chapman said Queanbeyan was likely to fall within the sights of the review panel due to the fact that it's a small, urbanised local government area (LGA) surrounded by larger regional areas.

"There is a certainly a mood for change; I think there's no doubt that local government in NSW needs to become more efficient and sustainable," Mr Chapman said.

"[And] there's no doubt that Queanbeyan, because of its smaller size and the surrounding shires' larger size, will be under some sort of scrutiny.

"But whether that leads to mergers or just a different way of providing services, that will come out in the final report," he said.

Queanbeyan was unique because it was almost exclusively an urban LGA without a large rural constituency, Mr Chapman said.

"If I was looking at a map of all the local government boundaries across NSW, and you've got Queanbeyan as just a very small urban council and next door is a large shire, well you'd be saying to yourself, 'well couldn't we create some efficiencies by merging those two councils," he said.

Mayors and general managers across south-eastern NSW have already begun discussions in an attempt to minimise the impact of the review.

Mr Chapman said that Queanbeyan staff (representing an LGA of around 45,000 people) had discussed resource sharing options with neighbouring Palerang (15,000 people) and Yass Valley (15,000 people) as a way to introduce greater efficiencies, including sharing back-office services like IT, HR and financial services.

"In our case, because we're a larger Council, we could run on a regional basis all the surrounding Council's IT, for example," Mr Chapman said.

"Most smaller council's might have only one or two people on IT, whereas we've got about 10 people.

"We could certainly have our computer system - and we have the computer systems that allow us to do it- store the data of all the other Councils in the region and manage it on their behalf, which would reduce their cost structures," he said.

The local government review panel will hand down its final report in July, but its next discussion paper will be released in March.

Review panel Chair Professor Graham Sansom said in November that there was an "emerging body of evidence that suggests there are currently too many councils in NSW" and that "we need to explore a range of options for consolidation."

"We understand concerns about amalgamation and will only recommend mergers where we believe they are clearly the best way forward," Prof. Sansom said.

Related stories: "Palerang to resist amalgamation"

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