As the NSW Government abandons the amalgamation of various NSW councils, Clarence Valley Council (CVC) will seek $15million in compensation for the 2004 forced amalgamation of the valley’s councils.
However, questions asked by Cr Andrew Baker and views put forward by the mayor and Cr Richie Williamson resulted in a different outcome to a motion on notice (MON) tabled by Cr Debrah Novak at the July council meeting – to “approach the NSW state government with a business case for financial assistance of an amount similar to that extended to recently amalgamated councils”.
Councillor Novak wrote in her MON: “The cost of bringing 6 councils – through the amalgamation process in 2004 with promised savings of $5.2 million (one off) and thereafter annually $1.5million ($23.2 million) – never eventuated for CVC.”
Councillor Richie Williamson was quick to flag a different tact, foreshadowing a motion to, instead, “tender a motion to the Local Government NSW (LGNSW) annual conference calling on LGNSW to lobby the NSW government on behalf of all NSW councils amalgamated in 2004 [and] receive the same financial compensation as recently amalgamated councils”.
During debate, only Cr Greg Clancy supported Cr Novak’s MON. He said he thought “going it alone” would be better for CVC, in stark contrast to Cr Arthur Lysaught, who said the chances of successfully lobbying the government alone, “to achieve any level of success [was] about as good as me winning Elle MacPherson; [and] there’s no chance of that”.
Councillor Baker played the devil’s advocate, hinting that digging too deeply into CVC’s financial affairs might reveal unwanted discoveries, when he asked: “Does council at some point need to demonstrate that it took all of its opportunities to make the savings of $1.5million per year?”
“…The reason for the question: if council was to go through a year by year forensic audit to prove that it had taken every opportunity for cost savings, do you think that would be under $100,000 a year for the audit?”
Mayor Simmons didn’t directly answer Cr Baker’s question, apart from acknowledging it would be at a substantial cost; however, he said it would be easy to “draw a conclusion that there wasn’t too much opportunity to reduce costs, particularly when staff levels were required to be maintained for a three-year period”.
“But then you could have some problems from that time on, because staffing levels in fact increased … after that time.”
Councillor Baker posed: “Do you think that the year in year out adoptions of deficit budgets might be seen as lost opportunities for cost savings?
“Would our recent decisions to reduce staffing numbers, in fact work against us? They could have been made anytime over the last nine years, I think.”
Councillor Williamson won the support of the other eight councillors with his foreshadowed motion.
“We can go alone and get the same result that we have had in the past,” he said. “We have tried and failed, more than once, to lay claim to some mysterious, mythical amount of cash.
“…We can try again on our own, and we will fail, or we can get the support of those former 26 or 27 areas, now 11 new councils, and Local Government NSW, to push the barrow for us.
“They do have some real clout when it comes to issues like this … Local Government NSW can, could and should act on behalf of all of those amalgamated councils from 2004.”