AN independent panel has recommended a merger between Gloucester, Great Lakes and Greater Taree councils in its final report to the State government.
The $1.8 million local government review has supported amalgamations among many of the State’s 152 local councils, including Gloucester.
It says Gloucester should merge with Great Lakes or Greater Taree or both or become part of a larger Mid Coast JO (Joint Organisation) of councils stretching up to Kempsey.
The JO concept would be similar to existing Regional Organisations of Councils (ROCs), which are voluntary bodies through which councils share resources and talent. The panel has recommended that JOs become statutory bodies rather than voluntary organisations.
MidCoast Water, which currently provides water and sewerage services to Gloucester, Great Lakes and Greater Taree shires, would be incorporated into the new Mid Coast JO. The report, which took two years to complete, says Gloucester’s financial outlook remains ‘very weak’ in the short term, improving to ‘neutral’ in the longer term.
It says the council’s ongoing reliance on grant funding remains ‘very high’ while giving its merger potential as medium.
Great Lakes remains the best performing of the local councils financially with a ‘moderate’ outlook in the short term, while Greater Taree’s is facing a bleak future with a ‘very weak’ outlook in the short term and a ‘negative’ outlook longer term.
Mayor John Rosenbaum said the council would continue to fight for its right to stay independent.
“We want to stand alone and we’ll spend significant time over the next few months putting our argument together to do that,” he said.
He said of all the options presented by the panel, the JO concept was probably the most agreeable outcome.
“We already share resources to some extent and it would probably allow us to maintain our identity with some level of independence,” he said.
The State government says it will not be changing its policy of ‘no forced amalgamations’ despite the report stating that ‘sooner or later amalgamations will have to be part of the package’ and that ‘NSW simply can not sustain 152 councils, with many highly dependent on grant support’.
Cr Rosenbaum said if the government’s policy did change a forced merger with Great Lakes or Greater Taree councils would both be to the detriment of Gloucester residents.
“You have to consider Taree’s financial position as a fairly big issue, while Great Lakes is a deadset coastal council,” he said.
“There are serious risks in going with either.”
Council has been given until March 7 to respond.