Life after amalgamation was the theme for the two day Local Government NSW Conference, which was held in Terrigal two weeks ago. Mayor Ingram and I represented Hilltops Council and joined with some nineteen other Councils which were amalgamated two years ago.
The conference was convened to discuss better ways to amalgamate Councils in the future, to learn from mistakes made in the past and to hear from all Councils, their positives and negatives, pertaining to the amalgamation experience.
The top concerns and experienced by all Councils were as follows:
1. All reported high loss of qualified staff.
2. Difficulty in attracting new, professionally qualified staff.
3. Administrators were kept in the position far too long - three to six months is ample.
4. Restore democracy by installing new Councillors ASAP after amalgamating in future.
I was very interested to hear from those Councils who were forced to amalgamate, in particular those who have been talking demerger. Not one Council spoke demerger and whilst problems were encountered, all were reasonably happy with their Council’s progress to date. Included in these presentations were Gundagai Cootamundra and Tumbarumba Tumut Councils, who have been reported in some newspapers as being unhappy and pursuing demerger options!
Other topics discussed included the water problem, training young staff for appropriate positions within Councils, with a view to keeping the young in our Council areas and providing them with long term employment.
One topic that was not mentioned until addressed by me was the forced amalgamation issue. I related my experience, when as Mayor of the former Harden Shire I attended the first conference to workshop amalgamation. The conference was hosted by Local Govt. NSW and there were some 500 attendees. Former Premier of NSW Mike Baird spoke and reassured all that there would be no forced amalgamation. The next speaker was Paul Toole Minister for Local Govt. He too reinforced there would be no forced amalgamation. All lies as Boorowa, Young and Harden were forced to merge. So, in future, be truthful with all Councils being merged.
I left the conference feeling happy that Hilltops was doing as good as the best and better than the rest. We have been dealt our share of bad cards, however it is not the cards that you are dealt, rather it is how you play the cards that you are dealt and in this regard, Hilltops Council is winning.
“Without change there can be no growth.”
– Councillor John Horton
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