Al­bury con­nec­tion

Ber­ri­gan Shire chooses joint op­tion over lo­cal merger

Southern Riverina news - - NEWS - By So­phie Burge

Ber­ri­gan Shire Coun­cil will fight to re­main a stand alone coun­cil that aligns it­self with a Joint Or­gan­i­sa­tion at Al­bury.

Coun­cil’s res­o­lu­tion un­der the Fit For The Fu­ture lo­cal gov­ern­ment re­forms was sup­ported by 30 peo­ple at its pub­lic meet­ing last Wed­nes­day.

Coun­cil ex­plained that a JO would in­volve a re­gional group of coun­cils — sim­i­lar to Rive­rina and Mur­ray Re­gional Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Coun­cils (RAMROC) — that can deal with is­sues over a larger area.

‘‘There would be no merger with Al­bury, just an ar­range­ment to co-op­er­ate on cer­tain items,’’ Ber­ri­gan Shire di­rec­tor of cor­po­rate ser­vices Matt Hansen said.

‘‘If Ber­ri­gan Shire was in a JO with Al­bury, it may in­clude neigh­bour­ing coun­cils such as Corowa, Urana and Greater Hume.’’

The orig­i­nal pro­posal was for the lo­cal JO to in­clude Ber­ri­gan, Jer­ilderie, De­niliquin, Mur­ray, Conargo and Wakool coun­cil ar­eas.

Ex­act mod­els and func­tions of JOs has still not been de­ter­mined.

Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing was orig­i­nally called to dis­cuss, again, a po­ten­tial merger of the Jer­ilderie and Ber­ri­gan Shire Coun­cils.

The two-way amal­ga­ma­tion was sug­gested by the In­de­pen­dent Pric­ing and Reg­u­la­tory Tri­bunal, which de­ter­mined that both coun­cils were not ‘Fit For The Fu­ture’ af­ter fail­ing to meet some of the set bench­marks.

The NSW Gov­ern­ment gave coun­cils one last chance to come to a de­ci­sion on their fu­ture, with the dead­line clos­ing to­day.

De­spite IPART’s rul­ing, Ber­ri­gan Shire gen­eral man­ager Rowan Perkins said the coun­cil can still see no strong or long-term ben­e­fits of merg­ing.

He and Mayor Bernard Curtin have also made that mes­sage clear to Min­is­ter for Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Paul Toole at a re­cent meet­ing.

Mr Perkins said al­though Jer­ilderie Shire Coun­cil area might ex­pe­ri­ence mar­ginal ben­e­fits if they merged with Ber­ri­gan, the new merged coun­cil would ex­pe­ri­ence a grad­ual yet sig­nif­i­cant de­cline fi­nan­cially.

‘‘The new coun­cil would be $20 mil­lion worse off in a decade, and un­able to con­tinue (Ber­ri­gan’s) cur­rent pro­gram of town im­prove­ments and in­vest­ment in eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment projects,’’ Mr Perkins said.

Cr Curtin said he stands by early stud­ies on the re­form pro­pos­als con­ducted by Ber­ri­gan Shire.

He main­tains a merger is not the pre­ferred choice of its coun­cil­lors or ratepay­ers.

‘‘Our anal­y­sis of the gov­ern­ment’s pro­posed amal­ga­ma­tion shows the new coun­cil with an un­der­ly­ing cash deficit of $1.5 to $2 mil­lion per year,’’ he said.

‘‘My coun­cil is not anti-re­form, but we con­sider that an amal­ga­ma­tion would re­quire an ad­di­tional $1 mil­lion to $2 mil­lion ev­ery year to main­tain ex­ist­ing lev­els of ser­vice to con­tinue to im­prove our in­fra­struc­ture. We have re­quested the min­is­ter con­sider this.

‘‘With­out this ad­di­tional fund­ing, the pro­posed amal­ga­ma­tion is not an ar­range­ment that we can, in good faith, put for­ward to our res­i­dents and ratepay­ers.’’

Ber­ri­gan’s Ma­ree Ryan, Clara Way and NSW EPA’s di­rec­tor of re­cov­ery Steve Bea­man at the Keep NSW Beau­ti­ful Blue Star Sus­tain­abil­ity awards.

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