18/02/2009 - 22:00

Fears raised over council mergers

18/02/2009 - 22:00

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AS Local Government Minister John Castrilli continues to advocate mergers of local councils, some councils that have already undergone amalgamation say local communities feared the loss of a town's cultural identity.

AS Local Government Minister John Castrilli continues to advocate mergers of local councils, some councils that have already undergone amalgamation say local communities feared the loss of a town's cultural identity.

The ministers' chief of staff Gary Brennan was the interim chief executive of the City of Geraldton when it merged with the Shire of Greenough.

He said one of the criticisms of the process was that people feared losing their local identity.

"People have a strong identity with various localities, and that will always be the case," Mr Brennan said.

He said a steering committee would ensure effective communication between communities and larger local governments.

Geraldton chief executive Tony Bruin, who took over 11 months after amalgamation, said the biggest problem was reconciling organisational cultures.

"People think you do things the same in local government but there are some differences," Mr Bruin said.

"On one side, you have ratepayers that are accustomed to paying for certain types of services and in another local government they are not, but they expect a different set of services."

At the time of going to print, City of Bunbury mayor David Smith was voting with councillors on amalgamation, which he expected to be supported unanimously.

Mr Smith said there were obvious fiscal benefits in reducing the duplication of services and facilities.

From Bunbury's perspective, the city was a far greater urban centre than its population reflected because its growth was spilling into surrounding shires.

"The rates from the areas which people would recognise as part of the Bunbury region are actually flowing into those four shires, but it's not due to anything other than the fact that there isn't any more area in Bunbury to accommodate that growth," Mr Smith said.

Mr Smith said Bunbury supported neighbouring populations in terms of infrastructure and health but did not receive the rates from those people to maintain services.

He expected the councils from Harvey, Capel, Eaton and Dardanup to oppose a merger.

"The attitude of the surrounding shires is that they are by no means unsustainable shires.''

Harvey has a population of 21, 500, Dardanup is 11,500 and Capel is a shire of 12,000.

"Their rates are five per cent plus, and they would all argue they're going gangbusters," he said.

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