12/12/2006 - 22:00

'Issues' stifle amalgamations

12/12/2006 - 22:00

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The amalgamation of local councils is a topic of debate that generates a lot of heat, but outside of Geraldton and Northam there is no immediate prospect of real change.

'Issues' stifle amalgamations

The amalgamation of local councils is a topic of debate that generates a lot of heat, but outside of Geraldton and Northam there is no immediate prospect of real change.

The Local Government Advisory Board, chaired by City of Swan Mayor Charlie Gregorini, pushed amalgamations earlier this year through its report on structural and electoral reform.

The board recommended that the state government legislate for mergers in five areas where the idea has been widely debated over a long period, namely the western suburbs of Perth, Fremantle, Geraldton, Narrogin and Northam.

It identified several other areas where mergers may be appropriate, including Bunbury, Mandurah, Bassendean, Kwinana, Victoria Park and Katanning.

WA Local Government Association president Bill Mitchell immediately responded by stating that any changes needed to be voluntary, even though he is personally in favour of amalgamations.

“I am on record as saying there are too many councils and too many councillors,” Mr Mitchell said.

“Our association’s point of view is that there will be no forced amalgamations.”

City of Fremantle Mayor Peter Tagliaferri is a stronger advocate of change.

“There are 144 local governments, there are at least 100 too many,” Mr Tagliaferri told WA Business News.

Local Government Minister Jon Ford has acknowledged that amalgamations need to proceed by mutual agreement.

“The Carpenter government has no intention to forcibly amalgamate any local government,” Mr Ford said earlier this year.

The systemic sustainability review, which reported last week to WALGA, concluded that amalgamations should not be a priority.

Study group member George McCullagh said no business case for amalgamations could be found.

“Putting together underperforming local authorities with deep embedded fiscal risk did not seem to be a remedy,” he said.

“Until you get those underlying issues sorted, amalgamations are more likely to occur around non-economic issues like capacity, skills and pooling of resources.”
Lord Mayor Peter Nattrass strongly believes that the breaking-up of the old City of Perth, which extended from Carlisle to City Beach, had been a positive move.

“You could not compare the benefits that are accruing in the City of Perth because it is now a focused municipality,” Dr Nattrass said.

“The present is by far superior.”

He said the old structure regularly led to disputes between CBD councillors and suburban councillors over the allocation of money.

The Town of Victoria Park was created from the break-up of the old City of Perth, and the Local Government Advisory Board has suggested that it may be carved up between the cities of South Perth and Belmont.

Two places where amalgamations are set to proceed are the City of Geraldton with the fast-growing Shire of Greenough, and the Town of Northam with the Shire of Northam.

A more likely trend is the move toward regional councils.

Most of Perth’s metropolitan councils are already members of five regional councils, which mainly provide waste management services.

A new grouping in rural WA is the Wildflower Regional Local Government, which comprises seven councils in the northern Wheatbelt including Coorow, Mullewa and Carnamah.

The regional council will be responsible for all community services and facilities such as road works, rubbish collection and disposal, town planning, rate collection and financial management for each local government on a contract basis.

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