Mayor calls for merger ballot
DERWENT Valley mayor Martyn Evans is calling for a referendum on council amalgamation.
He says ratepayers should be asked to vote for or against a merger on ballot papers at the October local government elections.
Council amalgamation has been hotly discussed within local government circles this year, with Local Government Minister Peter Gutwein publishing an August report encouraging the Sorell and Tasman councils to merge to deliver financial and strategic community benefit.
Despite both Sorell and Tasman mayors supporting an amalgamation, the Tasman Council voted 4-3 against a union after the Sorell Council unanimously voted in favour of the merger.
Both councils needed to vote in favour for the amalgamation to go ahead.
Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Michael Bailey said it was time for the government to “step up to the plate and to make some tough decisions”.
“For local government reform to happen in Tasmania, the policy of letting local government determine their own future has failed,” Mr Bailey said.
Cr Evans has suggested council amalgamation could be decided by the public.
“Maybe there should be something on ballot papers when they go out this year, asking ‘do you support amalgamation’,” Cr Evans said.
“Maybe the question needs to be asked like a referendum or a plebiscite.
“The Local Government Act that councils are governed under dates back to 1993. Perhaps it’s time that gets relooked at.”
Cr Evans said giving the option to the public could also increase voter numbers at the non-compulsory postal election.
“It may provide one of the best returns we’ve ever got,” he said.
“The Derwent Valley Council saw 58 per cent of the community vote at the last election which is great but it could be a lot higher.”
Sorell mayor Kerry Vincent said there was “some merit” to Cr Evans’ proposal.
“It’s an idea I’ve heard floated behind council doors in the past which I think could be beneficial,” he said.
“But only for communities that are in the frame for amalgamation. I don’t think it’s as easy as setting it up as a blanket vote statewide. It’s a caseby-case scenario.”
Cr Evans said gauging public interest on a proposed amalgamation would further open up the matter for debate among local council bodies.