October 18 - 24, 2015: Issue 236

 Keeping Pittwater Independent: NO Amalgamations Stance Persists

Pittwater Councillors and supporters at the NSW Local Government Conference at Rosehill on Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Issue 136: Local Government Reform - Associated Media Releases from Pittwater Council, Manly Council, IPART, Local Government NSW (peak industry association that represents the interests of all 152 NSW general purpose councils, 12 special purpose councils and the NSW Aboriginal Land Council)NSW Government’s Office of Local Government Minister for Local Government Paul Toole - Monday 12th October to Friday 16th October, 2015.

Pittwater Council's Vision remains: "To be a vibrant sustainable community of connected villages inspired by bush, beach and water."

Their stated Mission remains: "To be leaders in the provision of Local Government Services, to strive for sustainability through conservation, the protection and enhancement of the natural and built environment of Pittwater and to improve the quality of life for our Community and for future generations."

This Vision and Mission, and its successful forward moving and ongoing implementation was recognised this week:


Pittwater proud to win special commendation award

13 October,  2015

Pittwater Council has received a special commendation award for the 2015 A R Bluett Memorial Award—a prestigious award in its 70th year recognising achievement in local government.

The award was announced today at the local government conference in Sydney by the LGNSW, the peak body for local government in NSW.

Pittwater Council’s General Manager Mark Ferguson said it was an honour to receive this special award.

“This award is a testament to the enormous achievements of our staff and councillors over the past year.

“We have clearly demonstrated our capacity to deliver large and innovative infrastructure projects, be strong protectors of our natural environment and be closely connected to our community.

“We are a strong council with a progressive and innovative approach to services and projects we deliver for Pittwater,” he added.

Mr Ferguson congratulated Warringah Council, winner of the metropolitan category and Lithgow Council, winner of the rural category. 

The judging panel visited Pittwater in late August and stopped at a number of completed infrastructure projects—including Palm Beach Wharf, Avalon Beach Surf Life Saving Club and the historic Midholme building at Currawong—and engaged with staff and councillors to learn about a broad range of other projects and outcomes.

“The judges were able to appreciate the broad sense of resilience and innovation which is at the core of all the services we deliver—from the storm clean-up earlier this year, sustainability assessment framework, Pittwater’s open space strategy, Ingleside land release precinct planning, the place planning model we have adopted, and much more,” he said.

“The panel were also impressed with our comprehensive approach to community engagement.

“These outcomes can only be achieved through a concerted customer-centred service approach, a strong team and great leadership.

“Pittwater Council employs approximately 300 staff, most of whom are local people passionate about delivering local services. Our management team and staff are an inspiring and skilled group of individuals.

“It is our staff commitment and talents that enable us to excel at delivering the infrastructure and services we do.

“I am wholeheartedly proud of all our staff contributions to this process,” he added.

The A R Bluett Memorial Award is awarded annually in the memory of Albert Robert Bluett, who was an outstanding figure in local government. He was the authority on Local Government law, and his opinion was respected by the legal profession and ministers of the crown. He helped to write the Local Government Act of 1919. Following Bluett's death in April 1944, the councils of NSW subscribed to a fund as a permanent memorial to his work.

Photo courtesy Marcia Rackham.


Following and preceding this wonderful acknowledgement, from last received to first, for the record, and unedited or interpreted, so you may make up your own minds as usual:


Fit For the Future Assessments Complete 

16th October, 2015 Media Release: IPART

The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) has today handed its assessment of council proposals under the Fit for the Future reforms to the NSW Government.

Each of the 139 proposals (received from 144 councils) has been assessed as either ‘fit’ or ‘not fit’ against the Fit for the Future criteria established by the Government last year. The eight Far West councils were not required to submit proposals.



Pittwater's future bright but rumours unconfirmed

16 October, 2015

Various media reports today speculate that Pittwater Council will escape local government amalgamations but the State Government is yet to confirm this is indeed the case.

IPART’s deadline to deliver its recommendation to State Government is today, but already there are alleged ‘leaks’ suggesting Pittwater will remain as is and Manly and Warringah will merge to form a mega council.

It’s no secret that Pittwater’s community remains firmly opposed to forced mergers and wants Pittwater Council to stay independent, strong and local, but Deputy Mayor Kylie Ferguson says it’s too early to start celebrating.

“Like all affected councils, we’re awaiting State Government decision,” Cr Ferguson said. 

“If true, this decision reflects our strong submission to IPART and the strength of our council—acknowledged earlier this week with us receiving a special commendation award at the local government 2015 A R Bluett Memorial Awards,’ Cr Ferguson added.

Results from independent research and Pittwater Council’s community engagement have consistently demonstrated overwhelming support for the status quo.

“It’s not just a majority of our residents—it’s all but 11 percent—support Pittwater standing alone.

“Pittwater’s independence remains front and centre in our community, so standing alone just makes sense for us,” she added.

To stay informed, please visit www.pittwater.nsw.gov.au/reform


Fit for the Future Sham

October 16th, 2015: LGNSW

The IPART assessment of whether Councils were fit or unfit for the future was today revealed as a farce designed to justify longstanding plans to force council amalgamations, Local Government NSW President Keith Rhoades said.

Clr Rhoades was speaking after a newspaper revealed a forced amalgamations map had already been drawn up by the Government, reducing Sydney's 41 councils to 20 and scrapping 30 regional and rural councils.

"Minister Paul Toole has consistently said he would wait for the findings of the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) before making any amalgamation decisions," Clr Rhoades said.

"But today's reports make it very clear that decisions on forced amalgamations were taken well before delivery of the IPART report to the Minister today.

"That doesn't sound much like waiting for IPART to me.

"It makes it really clear that this whole process is a sham, with the Government trying to manipulate its way to a predetermined outcome using IPART as a cover."

Clr Rhoades said the Government's double talk was underlined by contradictions in Government speeches to Conference delegates on Monday.

"On Monday the Premier committed to further consultation with Councils once the IPART report had been released - a welcome compromise and a commitment to working with Councils and communities rather than against them," he said.

"However Minister Toole on Tuesday revealed the consultation was just one last chance for councils to agree with the Government.

"If that's the way the Minister defines consultation and partnership, it doesn't auger too well for those residents and ratepayers who will no longer have a truly local council in their corner after amalgamations are rammed through."

Clr Rhoades said most councils had taken the Premier at his word when he spoke of working together, and would be furious today as the manipulation of the process became clear.

"Our members welcome reform that genuinely improves outcomes for residents and ratepayers," he said.

"We all support practical moves to improve financial sustainability by fixing the systemic funding problems in the system caused by cost-shifting and rate pegging.

"But councils will fight against having amalgamation forced upon them, irrespective of whether they have proven they are financially sustainable and have community support.

"Independent and statistically verified polling found less than one in five Sydneysiders supported the Government's amalgamation plans for their area.

"The Premier and Minister is well aware of this polling - as are a range of uneasy backbenchers, concerned that forced amalgamations will impact their seats."


On Tuesday, the day Minister for Local Government Paul Toole spoke at the LGNSW Conference for 2015, the following was published on the NSW Government’s Office of Local Government website:

Open For Business: Borrowing Facility For NSW Councils 

Tuesday, 13 October 2015: Media ReleaseOffice of Local Government

Minister for Local Government Paul Toole today announced the NSW Government borrowing facility is open for business and encouraged NSW councils to consider the cheaper longer-term loans on offer. 

Mr Toole said he was pleased to help councils unlock investment in infrastructure to benefit communities now and into the future by offering councils who have demonstrated sound financial management access to funds from the TCorp facility. 

“The borrowing facility will provide Fit for the Future councils with access to low cost loans, saving councils up to $600 million over ten years, Mr Toole said. 

“As part of the Fit for the Future reforms the NSW Government is strengthening the financial sustainability of local councils and improving services and infrastructure through supportive initiatives like this. 

“I’m pleased to announce the TCorp borrowing facility is ready to go and open for business. 

“Councils who are Fit for the Future and are in good financial shape will benefit greatly from this. 

“The TCorp fund will build on the successful LIRS scheme, which saw the Government invest $120 million in councils to unlock $1 billion in local infrastructure projects.” 

The State borrowing facility allows councils and their communities to benefit from the sound financial management and AAA credit rating of the NSW Government, with access to cheaper loans through TCorp to fund important projects. 

In addition, TCorp will provide a range of services to all NSW councils to help improve their long-term financial planning, treasury management and investment management.


Govt stacks the deck on council amalgamations

Monday October 12th, 2015 (a.m.): LGNSW

The NSW Government was stacking the deck against councils by demanding they meet own source revenue benchmarks and then slamming them as greedy when they proposed rate rises, Local Government NSW said today.

LGNSW President Keith Rhoades AFSM- speaking ahead of today's Local Government Conference at Rosehill Racecourse - said Local Government Minister Paul Toole was mounting a "pretty transparent stitch-up" after report that his proposal to unilaterally sack councils had been rolled in Cabinet.

"The Minister accuses local government of greed, but it is his Government that set the financial benchmarks councils are required to meet to deemed Fit for the Future," Cr Rhoades said.

"Councils were told they had to meet certain financial benchmarks - some of which were criticised at the time by a range of experts - and for some councils the only way to do so is to increase rates.

"That's not because they're poor financial managers - it's the result of decades in which funding responsibility for infrastructure and services has been shifted off State Government books and onto the shoulders of Local Government.

"For nearly 40 years, cost shifting and ratepegging have required councils to pick up bigger and bigger tabs for infrastructure and services while preventing their revenues from keeping pace.

"It's a systemic problem which won't be solved by forced amalgamations.

"Forcibly merging two or more struggling councils just creates one big council with bigger funding issues.

"That's why LGNSW has been arguing that real financial sustainability can only be achieved if we fix the funding first."

Cr Rhoades said examples of cost shifting were rife at LGNSW's recent Finance Summit, including one in which a council was told to pass State Government costs in newly rezoned residential area on to residents.

"The Department of Education told Lane Cove Council it should impose a so-called betterment tax on new residents to pay for a new school, while State Transit demanded Council pay them $100,000 to run public bus services in the area," Cr Rhoades said.

"Meanwhile, the Federal Government has frozen Financial Assistance Grant indexation in a move that will starve councils across Australia of $925 million they would otherwise use to provide services and build and maintain community infrastructure "They're just a couple of examples - talk to any Council in NSW and you'll hear dozens more.

"That's why the Minister for Local Government has got incredible gall to claim councils are greedy.

"They're proposing to raise revenue the only way open to them to meet the very requirements set by the Minister and his Government."

Cr Rhoades said the Minister is reported to have originally proposed to Cabinet that councils be sacked to facilitate the mergers, sparking serious concerns from MPs that community outrage would impact Government support.

"That didn't work, so now he's trying to scare the community with the prospect of rate rises.

"But that's illogical, because there is no evidence that rates are consistently driven down by amalgamations."

Cr Rhoades said total council rate revenue in Queensland grew by 27.4% after the 2008 amalgamations, compared to NSW rate growth of 13.4% over the same period.

"And according to the Commonwealth's most recent Local Government National report 2012-13, Victorian council rates average $692 per capita compared to $499 in NSW - a difference of nearly 40%," he said.

"This is despite Victorian amalgamations that reduced the number of Victorian councils from 210 to 78.

"The Australian Centre of Excellence in Local Government says there is insufficient robust research to claim municipal consolidation results in gains through efficiencies in scale, while other academic research has found amalgamated councils do not deliver better performance than non-amalgamated councils on any of the Fit for the Future performance indicators."

Cr Rhoades said the Minister had repeatedly failed to show how forced amalgamations and will change the resourcing Catch 22 in which councils find themselves.

"The best he has been able to offer is to say Mega Councils will have better access to cheaper loans," he said.

"But loans still have to be paid back, and rates may still have to rise to service those loans, so there's no benefit to ratepayers there.

"The Government claims to want strong councils and strong communities but refuses to address the systemic issues that have led us to where we are today.

"The Minister is being incredibly duplicitous: using a longstanding funding problem as cover for an ideologically-driven move to increase control over local communities and neighbourhoods.

"What we should all be asking is who wins in this scenario? It's not residents and ratepayers, no matter what the Minister might be claiming today."


The Premier promised to consult on amalgamations

Monday October 12, 2015: Manly Council

The Premier Mike Baird gave the opening address to the LGNSW Annual Conference being held at Rosehill, Parramatta.

Mr Baird acknowledged the hard work of NSW Councillors, Mayors and staff. 

On council reforms, Mr Baird said the Government will consult with the community on amalgamations following the release of the IPART report on the fitness of councils.

He promised the conference that he will genuinely listen to the community's views on council reforms during the consultation process. He reaffirmed that his only motivation for local government reform is to improve services to ratepayers and the community. 

When asked about the 2016 elections, Mr Baird indicated that there is no plan to change the timetable for the 2016 council general elections but he will leave that to The Minister for Local Government to consider in due course.

Being smaller allows Manly to achieve financial growth

Monday October 12, 2015: Manly Council

In fact, Manly is rated in the top 6 councils in NSW and when assessed on its financial sustainability Manly council met or exceeded the benchmark in:

• Operating Performance,

• Revenue Source,

• Building and Infrastructure,

• Asset Renewal,

• Asset Maintenance and Debt Servicing.

Importantly, this financial sustainability and expertise has allowed Manly Council to achieve a strong record and reputation for infrastructure delivery.

Manly council delivers a wide range of infrastructure projects for the local community without financially impacting ratepayers. Such projects include the revitalisation of Manly's CBD and the new Swim Centre. 

Being smaller also means:

• Strategic planning that is built around community consultation and feedback, from locals and with locals.

• Innovation that benefits the community through online services and advanced technology platforms.

• Local community partnerships with residents and community groups to ensure that Council's services are representative of the community's needs.

• Financial sustainability, growth and transparency.


Councils call for Regional and Rural Minister 

Monday October 12, 2015: LGNSW

The Local Government NSW Annual Conference has called NSW Premier Mike Baird to appoint a Minister for Rural and Regional NSW.

The decision follows a vote by the State's 152 councils at the sector's annual conference, held this year at Sydney's Rosehill Racecourse.

"Essentially it's about ensuring rural and regional NSW are given the same consideration and have the same voice at the Cabinet table as Sydneysiders," LGNSW President Keith Rhoades said.

"In April 2015 Premier Baird scrapped the role of Minister for Western NSW, then held by Kevin Humphries, as well as other regional Minister roles.

"Yet at the same time he retained a Minister for Western Sydney, which happens to be the Premier himself.

"Why do the people of Western Sydney deserve better representation in Cabinet than those people who live in the rest of the State?

"With no disrespect to the individuals concerned, Parliamentary Secretaries are a pale substitute indeed."

Clr Rhoades said it was also important to recognise the challenges and issues faced by people who lived in all the regions of NSW.

"Our regional and rural areas have a wealth of issues which are directly impacting on the lives of families and voters, and we believe there should be someone at that Cabinet table specifically charged with representing them," he said.

"There may be a Minister for Regional Development, but that role has a completely different focus.

"When the Premier's new Cabinet was sworn in back in April, Premier Baird told the media he had based his decisions on performance and merit.

"He said that the people of NSW would expect nothing less, and he was right.

"The people of rural and regional NSW also expect nothing less - nothing less than this Government's best efforts to understand the challenges and issues they face, and represent their best interests.

"We believe that the Government will be able to do this more effectively if there is someone formally charged with the responsibility.

"That's why the sector has carried this motion calling for the appointment of a Minister for Rural and Regional NSW."