5 October 2023

Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council goes back to the drawing board on demerger

| Chris Roe
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Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council 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 demerger of the Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council (CGRC) appears to be no closer to a resolution with the fragile organisation told to map its own road towards de-amalgamation.

Minister for Local Government Ron Hoenig met councillors on Tuesday and put forward a “new pathway which empowers the council to develop a detailed implementation plan to guide the establishment of two new sustainable local government areas”.

The Minister declared in a media release the NSW Government had “salvaged the plan to de-amalgamate”, but Mayor Charlie Sheahan said the response from the council was “mixed”.

“It was nice that he’s entrusted council to manage the demerger process, even though it’s a bit lacking in structure,” he said.

“But he refused to commit to reassure us that the Government would back us with the necessary resources that we would need to provide the two implemented plans.”

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Mr Hoenig’s pathway requires the CGRC to put forward a plan that includes defining the new boundaries, choosing the number of councillors, the division of assets and allocation of staff, as well as management and organisational structures.

Mr Hoenig said he had inherited a “dead-end” problem from the previous administration that lacked a statutory mechanism under the current legislation to enable the de-amalgamation.

“This approach recognises council and the community’s desire to demerge and lets the community shape their own destiny in creating their two new councils.”

Minister for Local Government Ron Hoenig explains his 'pathway' towards de-amalgamation in Cootamundra.

Minister for Local Government Ron Hoenig explains his ‘pathway’ towards de-amalgamation in Cootamundra. Photo: Ron Hoenig/Facebook.

Once the plan was complete, Mr Hoenig said it would be assessed by a public inquiry led by the Boundaries Commission, something that did not go down well with the council which has already been through the process twice.

Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke said the new NSW Government had brought the process to “a grinding halt”.

“This is deja vu all over again,” Ms Cooke said.

“This will be the third time the Boundaries Commission has examined this demerger proposal, which begs the question: How many times will it take for the NSW Labor Government to understand that this is what the local communities overwhelmingly want to see happen?”

Mr Sheahan also expressed his frustration.

“We’ve been through that process and fulfilled all the requirements under the act,” the Mayor said.

“It has created great concern amongst us as councillors because we understand the fragility of our staff and our communities at this present time.

“It’s putting us on a bit of a merry-go-round and wasn’t received that warmly, I would say.”

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Mr Sheahan said he was confident CGRC had the ability to arbitrate the process but warned that it would require funding for professional expertise.

“We know what we had to do during the first merging of council to rectify the issues in that organisation,” he said.

“And we know that those challenges will exist in creating two new organisations moving forward and that’s where we were asking for the commitment from the Government.

“To load that on existing staff workload, which is already stretched to the limit, is asking way, way too much.”

Two of the council’s seven managers have recently resigned and the Mayor said the ongoing uncertainty made it hard to recruit and retain staff.

“We’re in a position of being on notice as a council,” he said.

“Without that clear pathway forward, we’re unable to offer permanency in the workplace for those positions.

“Not only that, we can’t even put ourselves with the Electoral Commission for next year’s election, because we don’t know what our situation will be.”

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