Panel is listening

GREATER Taree City mayor Paul Hogan is confident of positive results from the NSW Independent Local Government Review, which sat in Taree last week.

Despite earlier airing his belief the visiting review panel had “made up its mind”, the mayor said last Tuesday’s two separate consultations in Taree were a chance for everyone to have their say, and that what was said “will be listened to”.

“They do realise that change has to happen, and after talking with (the chairman of the panel) I feel confident there will be positive results,” he said.

Cr Hogan made a presentation to the visiting panel at a councils-only morning session, representing the Mid Coast Group of Councils. It took the form of a two hour round-table session involving the panel, mayors and general managers, with councillors also welcome to attend.

Afterwards, the panel held public consultation with community leaders and other interested members of the public, at Club Taree.

Cr Hogan said his presentation highlighted the key challenges facing local government, principally financial pressures which lead to infrastructure backlogs.

Some of these are community wealth (the ability of ratepayers to pay) given local household income, and lack of employment and education opportunities.

“In regions such as ours there must be consideration given to the limits faced by people on fixed incomes and the financial capability of a predominantly ageing population.

“There must also be consideration of the increasing demand for services from communities such as ours.

“On top of that we have the environment to consider, with prominent issues including coal seam gas, the carbon tax, climate change and sea level rise,” he said.

Cr Hogan presented figures supporting councils’ claim that rate pegging is having a huge impact on infrastructure backlogs, using the example of a 2.9 per cent pegged limit for the last 20 years.

In the case of his own council, he said, rate income amounts to $24 million a year. If an increase had been allowed to a figure of six or seven per cent per annum, “we would have a rate income of between $36 million and $40 million”, and therefore much more able to address failing infrastructure such as roads and bridges.

Cr Hogan said the panel members appeared very receptive to the information put forward.

There was also favourable comment for the idea of closer partnerships between councils, “bringing local government councils together, towards better outcomes,” he said.

The afternoon session at Club Taree involved more than 50 people who were divided into eight working groups to put forward suggestions to the visiting panel.

“Funding for roads was still the hottest topic,” Cr Hogan said, with reference also to the fact that some councils may be able to provide certain services which others cannot.

“People were allowed to have their say, and after talking to the panel chairman, I feel confident there will be positive results.”

Cr Hogan said the panel expects to release a report of its review by June next year, following further panel visits to areas across NSW, and an open submission period.

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