By Joe Bourke
The amalgamation debate has intensified as the June 30 deadline for local councils to submit their proposals demonstrating they are ‘fit for the future’ draws closer.
Leichhardt Mayor Rochelle Porteous criticised the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal’s (IPART) final ‘Methodology for Assessment of Council Fit for the Future Proposals’, which was released last week.
Clr Porteous said that aside from scale and capacity, every benchmark was a “financially based quantitave measure”. She listed community opposition to mergers, loss of local representation, loss of local identity and local accountability as important factors that IPART had left out.
“These factors are far too important to be treated as secondary considerations to the financial benchmarks and should take much greater prominence in the assessment process,” she said.
The release of the methodology follows Leichhardt’s firey council meeting last week, where Labor and Liberal councillors joined to move a motion suggesting a fallback position of a merger between Canada Bay, Leichhardt and Ashfield.
The move was widely criticised by members of the community, Greens councillors and Independent councillor John Stamolis, who said the councillors who passed the motion “deserted the community at a critical time”.
Labor councillor Darcy Byrne told City Hub that Labor councillors were firmly against amalgamations, but were exploring “the only merger option which is not an economic basket case”.
“The financial analysis, which the Council and the Mayor have not made available to residents until forced to, shows that the Leichhardt, Ashfield and Canada Bay merger would result in far lower rates and better services for our residents, than merger of all six Councils,” he said.
Clr Byrne also released advice he received from Council’s Director of Corporate Services Matthew Phillips. Mr Phillips said that the stand alone proposal was the best option, but that the Leichhardt, Canada Bay and Ashfield merger was the best scenario of any merger he had modelled, noting that he had not modelled every combination.
Former Independent Mayor of Leichhardt Maire Sheehan spoke at last week’s meeting, telling City Hub she didn’t have an objection to the motion.
“It’s not that I’m madly keen necessarily but I don’t have an objection to it. From my perspective, it’s better to be open and upfront about what you’re doing… So I think it’s good that someone comes up and says ‘let’s have this conversation and let’s have it openly’,” she said.
Ms Sheehan also said that Leichhardt was perfectly viable as a stand-alone Council, and that it does “a really good job in terms of that mix of managing services and community advocacy”.