Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mayor appears to have "No Idea" regarding amalgamation

Eurobodalla Shire Councillors went behind closed doors at the Council meeting of 28th Oct 2015 to decide our fate about amalgamation. If you watch the webcast right near the end you will see that the Mayor could not even bring himself to say the word “amalgamation” in public; he called it “the other matter”. This is how determined our councillors are to exclude us from the conversation.

Prior to the meeting ERA asked all councillors and the Mayor two questions:

“The Minister for Local Government and the Premier of NSW have both declared that Councils will be merged. The Local Member Andrew Constance has recently flagged that at least Palerang Council is under consideration for merger with Eurobodalla. This is by definition the biggest event in the history of Eurobodalla Shire and as a Councillor of this Shire it would be expected that you have a point of view and an action or inaction plan for the ratepayers that you represent. We ask you the following question on their behalf:

Considering that there is $15 million for infrastructure projects such as aquatic centres and performing arts centres and $10 million which will only be given to councils who actively seek amalgamation, do you support sitting back and doing nothing and risk losing Eurobodalla’s share of $25 million? Will you continue to support ongoing special rate rises?”

As it is not unusual for the more arrogant of Councillors to ignore ratepayers’ enquiries when it suits them, we added an incentive to reply in that if there was no response we would publish their nil response as “No idea.”
Mayor Lindsay Brown: No idea; Clr Gabi Harding: No idea; Clr Danielle Brice: No idea. Certainly they have no ideas which they want to share with you the ratepayer.

As it turns out that may have been a good strategy. Clr Pollock ignored the questions and made some rambling response regarding the allocation of ERA preferences at the election over 3 years ago. Clr Schwarz responded with a bedtime story about the financial dealings of dental surgeries. He called his reply simple. Schwarz also demonstrated his total lack of understanding of the IPART report in the same way that Clr Burnside did in his reply.

Burnside, after lashing ERA and everyone else for only having “half the facts”, went on to make a complete fool of himself (as did Schwarz) by calling Palerang and Queanbeyan “basket cases” “crumbling bridges and roads” “unfit”. In fact IPART found both those Councils Fit in all categories including financially fit, bar one: scale and capacity; they are too small. Neither of them could have read the report. The concern for all ratepayers is that these two Councillors are prepared to make life altering decisions for others with little or no research, little or no understanding and arrogant incompetence. This alone makes amalgamation appealing.

ERA Councillors Innes and Leslight want this debate in the public arena. They do not want this shire forever dependent upon SRV’s. They support all of the potential benefits of amalgamation. They say it is up to the six councillors who whisper their decisions about amalgamation behind closed doors to prove why it is not one of the greatest opportunities for this long stagnating Shire. It is not good enough to say we are OK; we want to be the best we can be. The next fact shows what OK means.

FACT: In the last 5 years 2.6% population growth in Eurobodalla, yet 4.1% in NSW and 4.6% in same Group 4 Councils as ours. Yet this Council wants more of the same.

Ron Gifford - ERA

Councillor Schwarz reply:

Dear Mr Gifford

Let me put it to you as simply as possible.

Imagine one has a dentistry practice and the business is going well. In fact, recently you had an external consultant in and they told you that your business is fit for the future and you are serving your customer base well. Your finances are in good order, as are your assets. Then one day, someone from ERA (not sure who they are or what they represent these days) says that you should take on two other practices that lose money hand over fist, after they joined forces, whose assets are in disrepair, their books are a shambles and their customer base small but geographically big (9000 sq km with crumbling roads and bridges) and the people not happy. ERA thinks it is a fantastic idea to use the hard earned dollars of Eurobodalla shareholders to bail out two failed practices to the west on a vibe.

But if you take on these two new distant practices you may get a new backyard pool (above ground) thrown in, but your Eurobodalla shareholders (Mum and Dad) will have to service and maintain it, but in this case, let's just call it Palerang dentistry, has decided to stand alone and therefore Eurobodalla will not get the cheap pool.

Please oh enlightened ERA persons, please tell us where where the value is. Always on the lookout for a good deal.

Perhaps Clr Leslight will show us the way tomorrow. The Motion he is moving is really on the pace.

Clr Peter Schwarz

Clr Pollock reply
Hi Ron,I remember the fantastic deal you offered me at the last local govt. election, I am sure you remember- My second preferences for ERA 3rd preferences,so as a councillor with no idea ,please at least include this info as a prelude.

Clr Rob Pollock

Clr Burnside reply
Hi Ron,

Thanks for your email. Great to see you using tact and diplomacy in your usual artful way.

Your observation regarding Councils merging is correct. Last Tuesday, the Government released IPART's findings on the 'Fit for the Future' process which found about 2/3rd's of Councils didn't make it by their criteria.

Fortunately, Eurobodalla, along with our neighbours, Bega and Shoalhaven, originally deigned by the State to be 'stand alone' Councils, demonstrated that they conformed to the requirement to be fit, and are not being considered for amalgamation. This hasn't stopped us forging ahead with an MOU with Bega Shire to get more economies and use our close similarities to our mutual advantage. I heard Andrew Constance on the radio last week too, and noted that he's no longer looking at coastal Council mergers but is wanting us to look west to develop scale of operations.

Naturally, when he said that, our Mayor called his Palerang counterpart and was told that they were simply not interested in continuing the argument and would draw a line in the sand as a 'stand alone' Council, daring the State to sack them which they probably will do.

Funds from the State supporting amalgamations are made available to Councils which agree to merge, individually and collectively. No funds would be made available for us to merge with Palerang as they don't agree.

Palerang is a Council formed a few years back by amalgamating Braidwood and Bungendore, two financially unviable Councils, into one -- as it turns out -- great big unviable Council. It's a basket case -- small pop., huge road system (1400km of roads; 700 of them dirt - 30% of their budget spent just on them) small rate base and no money. What on earth would there be to gain by us taking them on? Bungendore and Queanbeyan are virtually commuter suburbs of Canberra and Braidwood has historic links -- educational; business etc. with Goulburn so there's absolutely no 'community of interest' either.

If you can form an argument that demonstrates that Eurobodalla and Bega ratepayers (also Bega State seat electors) would somehow be better joining with their unfit tablelands neighbours taking on a raft of problems that we simply don't have, then I'd love to hear it.

If, however, i don't hear from you in 48 hours I'll file your email under 'here goes Ron again armed with half the facts'.

Yours in tact and diplomacy,


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Eurobodalla Shire should consider looking West - Council Amalgamations.

Eurobodalla Shire should consider looking West - Council Amalgamations.

The Eurobodalla Ratepayers Association (ERA) wishes to advise that following the release of the IPART’S Fit for the Future results Eurobodalla Shire is now placed in a very exciting position.

As indicated by our local member Andrew Constance there are two Councils, Palerang and Queanbeyan to our west which have been deemed “unfit”. Both of these Councils have much in common and have shared interests with Eurobodalla.

More than thirty per cent of Eurobodalla rates are currently paid by the folks to our west; they choose to buy homes here and holiday on the South Coast. Our common interests include farming communities, rural and small businesses, tourism, and strong community interest in road safety on the Kings Highway; a combined effort would see the road vastly improved. Eurobodalla Council (ESC) is a member of the South East Region of Councils (SEROC), which includes Palerang and Queanbeyan.

The current, and previous Council, communicated the value of SEROC membership to ratepayers. These regions share our interests and would want to help build and share our future prosperity.
On ABC Local Radio, Member for Bega Andrew Constance continues to challenge councils in his electorate to think beyond being found ‘Fit for the Future’ to what they can do to ensure ratepayers get value for money and the services and infrastructure they deserve.
The answer seems clear. Eurobodalla Council has 30 days to broker a deal with Palerang and Queanbeyan to voluntarily merge. Council can then tap into the recently announced new Stronger Communities Fund, which provides each new council up to $15 million to invest in community infrastructure projects such as an Aquatic Centre or a Performing Arts Centre, and $10 million for each new council to ensure that ratepayers do not pay for the up-front costs of merging. This funding is only available to those mergers agreed to by councils and the NSW Government.

ESC cannot wait until amalgamation is made to happen and it is clear that the State government will amalgamate unfit councils with fit councils. ESC must approach the State government with a plan to amalgamate with Palerang and Queanbeyan or miss out on the money and opportunity.
 The ERA backs a merger between Eurobodalla, Palerang and Queanbeyan. It is an unexpected gift out of the ‘Fit for the Future’ process. It’s a chance to re-energise the shire, create jobs and opportunities for families and young people, and build better transport links.