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CVC: no go with JO

Geoff Helisma | Clarence Valley’s councillors have unanimously rejected an offer to join the Mid North Coast Joint Organisation of Councils, which is currently comprised of Port Macquarie Hastings, Bellingen Shire and Kempsey Shire councils. An Office of Local Government FAQ document says joint organisations (JO) will benefit councils and communities in regional NSW by “transforming the way that the NSW Government and local councils collaborate, plan, set priorities and deliver important projects on a regional scale … working across traditional council boundaries”. In June this year at an extraordinary meeting, councillors considered various possible outcomes, as far as joining or forming a joint organisation is concerned, ideally preferring to join with Coffs Harbour, Nambucca Shire and Bellingen Shire councils. Fundamentally, CVC rejected the idea of a JO having councils from two major centres as members – Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour. Coffs Harbour has since decided that it will not join the Mid North Coast Joint Organisation (MNCJO), as has Nambucca; however, Bellingen has joined that JO. At the September 18 CVC meeting, a letter from the MNCJO’s chair, mayor of Kempsey Shire Council, Liz Campbell, was tabled, inviting the CVC and Coffs Harbour and Nambucca councils to join the MDCJO. In an effort to persuade the three councils to join, Ms Campbell wrote that the MNCJO “is cognisant of the financial sustainability of councils on the north coast and the reality that the operation of a JO will need the support of at least five or six councils to be financially sustainable”. This, idea, however, does not concur with CVC general manager Ashley Lindsay’s opinion. Mr Lindsay advised councillors in his report that “it has not been explained how a JO which contains two major regional centres … can realistically put aside their parochial interests in undertaking regional planning and advocacy which may be perceived as ‘favouring’ one centre over the other”. “Where there is finite funding it is inevitable there will be disagreement if regional level services or additional funding is directed to one major regional centre over the other,” he wrote. However, what happens next is in the hands of the NSW Government, which has said it “will not be proclaiming any additional joint organisations in regional NSW”. Mr Lindsay argues that “this policy position is inconsistent with another government policy which states a requirement for a minimum of three (3) councils to comprise a JO. “It is also inconsistent with the legislation which established JOs which provides that two (2) or more council areas can comprise a JO,” he wrote in his report to council. Despite a meeting with Deputy Premier John Barilaro on August 3, which Mr Lindsay said was “positive” and at which Mr Barilaro “gave an undertaking that he would speak with the Minister for Local Government regarding our application to form the north coast joint organisation”, nothing has happened. “Council has not received any response or an explanation from the Minister for Local Government or the Deputy Premier regarding the [government’s] policy position,” Mr Lindsay wrote in his report. As a result, councillors resolved to “make further representations to the Deputy Premier, the Minister for Local Government and the local state Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis for the establishment of a joint organisation comprising Clarence Valley, Coffs Harbour and Nambucca Shire local government areas”.