Palerang to resist amalgamation

AMALGAMATION is something that neighbouring Palerang Council would strongly resist, according to newly elected mayor Pete Harrison.

"I don't hear many people in Palerang at all looking favourably upon amalgamation," he said.

"Palerang was formed by amalgamations nine years ago now, and it's not obvious to us that there were any efficiency gains at all through that process."

Mr Harrison also has concerns about resource-sharing hubs based in neighbouring Local Government Areas (LGAs).

"Why is that group going to service the peripheral councils in the same manner as they would their own council, which is also their employer?

"Our constituents [would] lose a bit of autonomy ... there's a risk they'll become very focused on the requirements of the council to who they directly report and not so focused on the council to who they just provide a service," he said.

Palerang is the only LGA in the state with the majority of residents in rural-residential homes, with a smaller group living in the villages, including Braidwood and Bungendore. The rural-residential residents were further split into two camps: farmers, and hobby farmers or retirees living on the western side of the LGA who had strong financial or social links to the ACT. Mr Harrison said that made for a unique mix of demographics that was challenging to represent at local government level.

"It's a real challenge for me and my council to actually service those different groups. And too often there's an attempt to either squeeze us into either a rural style of governance or an urban style of governance, and we're not either of those," he said.

Urbanised Queanbeyan would be a particularly uncomfortable fit if it came to a merger he said, and his preference would be for Yass Valley or Goulburn Mulwaree.

"It's more logical for us to look towards Yass, because from a practical, resource management point of view, the western part of Palerang is part of the Yass Valley catchment, so there's some synergy there.

"The Yass Council also embraces Murrumbateman and parts of Sutton which are also rural residential areas that feed into the ACT, so there are similarities there too. They've also got the town of Yass which is a farming centre, like Braidwood. And if you go to Goulburn, it's a similar situation," he said.

Discussions are continuing between mayors and general managers of LGAs represented by the South East Regional Organisation of Councils (SEROC), of which Queanbeyan, Palerang, Goulburn Mulwaree, and Yass Valley are members.

Goulburn mayor Geoff Kettle told The Goulburn Post earlier this month that he wanted to be prepared for any potential merger recommendations in the review panel's final report, to be released in July.

"The Minister has made it plain that if councils want to discuss amalgamations, he'll help them do it," he said.

"But if we sit around with our head in the sand we may well be told how it will be done."

Related stories: Councils look to avoid mergers

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