13 April 2024

Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council demerger unlikely before September elections

| Chris Roe
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Minister for Local Government Ron Hoenig met with Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Councillors including Mayor Charlie Sheahan.

Minister for Local Government Ron Hoenig met with Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Councillors including Mayor Charlie Sheahan (right). Photo: Ron Hoenig (Facebook).

The process to de-amalgamate the Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council (CGRC) continues at a glacial pace with NSW Local Government Minister Ron Hoenig confirming this week that he had received a detailed proposal from CGRC and placed it on public exhibition for 28 days.

It’s now the third time CGRC has gone through the process since its first demerger plan was endorsed in August 2022 by the previous minister Wendy Tuckerman.

Mayor Charlie Sheahan said it had been “extremely frustrating” and was taking its toll on everyone involved.

“It’s having detrimental effects on the organisation’s ability to deliver to our community,” he said.

“We’ve lost staff members and it’s very hard to recruit in the situation we’re in.

“In fact, it’s almost impossible for us to actually engage senior staff on a permanent basis because we’re an organisation that’s on notice and have been for two years.”

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In a statement on Wednesday (10 April), Mr Hoenig thanked the community for its patience and encouraged ratepayers to offer feedback over the next four weeks.

“I will consider any submissions prior to deciding whether to refer the proposal to the NSW Local Government Boundaries Commission for review and appoint commissioners to undertake a public inquiry into the proposal,” he said.

“Should the Boundaries Commission determine that the review results in two financially sustainable councils, then I would be prepared to recommend to the Governor a return to the former Cootamundra and Gundagai local government areas.”

Mr Hoenig reiterated the reasons for his decision to reboot the process, saying that the new Labor administration lacked a statutory mechanism under the existing legislation to enable the de-amalgamation.

“I appreciate the community has been asked on numerous occasions to have input into plans for demerger,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the roadmap process initiated by the previous government was legally flawed.

“I am following the statutory provisions of the act to progress the demerger lawfully.”

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Mayor Sheahan said that “Groundhog Day” was an apt metaphor for what they were going through.

“We’ve done everything they’ve asked for and provided the transitional business plan, we’ve provided long-term financial sustainability plans outlining the long-term financial positions of the two new councils, which was part of the Minister’s request,” he said.

“When you look at the process that he’s putting in front of us, there’s another 28 days now, and then – pending public submissions – it goes back to the Boundaries Commission, which could be another 28 days and then however long the Minister takes to make the final decision.”

With local government elections in NSW set down for 14 September, Cr Sheahan said it was unlikely they would be ready.

“The reality is I can’t see us being in a position to have two new council elections by that date because the time frame now has just got too narrow to complete the work as necessary,” he said.

At budget estimates in March, the Minister refused to be drawn on whether CGRC could defer the elections until the situation was resolved.

“I’m just not mindful to push democracy away,” he said.

“Let’s do one step at a time because we’ll just wait and see.”

You can view the proposal and make a submission through the Office of Local Government before 10 May.

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