It’s quite possible that the next council elections in 2016 could be a referendum for Cabonne Shire’s ratepayers on whether to merge with the city of Orange or join a pro- posed new Joint Organisation of councils in the Central West.
The option’s been recommended in the final report of the Local Government Review Panel on amalgamations, aimed at underpinning the future financial sustainability of local councils.
Cabonne has until 2017 – a year after the elections – before both recommendations are officially presented to the NSW Boundaries Commission.
Cabonne’s mayor, Ian Gosper, has heartily welcomed the option as a win for the council’s claim that 93 percent of our ratepayers don’t want amalgamation with anyone, let alone Orange.
But the alternatives could mean discarding the oranges in favour of lemons. There are currently 14 Joint Organisations in NSW, but their functions are very fundamental cooperation on water and sewerage services, noxious weeds eradication and floodplain management.
These combined bodies are not universally popular, are regarded as too big to focus effectively on local issues, and even the Final Review states their performance has been “patchy and uneven, especially in the delivery of shared services.”
The question now is whether three years is long enough for this basic infrastructure to be radically upgraded to the scope, efficiency and sophistication now demanded of local government.
Also, while the review supports Cabonne’s good financial rating, Orange’s mayor, John Davies, points out that the crux is whether smaller councils like ours can pay their own way without substantial state and federal grants in the future.
“There are at least 10 councils which would disappear overnight if that golden egg is taken away,” he says.
And with both governments likely to be slashing all funding for several years to come, that’s something that must be taken very seriously.