EMOTIONS are churning in the bush over the state government’s council merger plan.
Premier Mike Baird’s plan involves cutting more than a quarter of NSW's 152 councils, including bringing the number of regional councils down from 109 to 87.
Proposed mergers among regional councils are Armidale-Dumeresq and Guyra, Bathurst and Oberon, Berrigan and Jerilderie, Blayney, Cabonne and Orange, Bombala, Cooma-Monaro and Snowy River, Boorowa, Harden and Young, Conargo and Deniliquin, Cootamundra and Gundagai, Corowa, Lockhart and Urana, Dubbo and Wellington, Jerilderie and Murrumbidgee, Kiama and Shoalhaven, Murray and Wakool, Newcastle and Port Stephens, Palerang and Queanbeyan, Shellharbour and Wollongong, Tamworth and Walcha, and Tumbarumba and Tumut.
Dungog mayor Harold Johnston was “stunned” and Gloucester mayor John Rosenbaum was “taken aback” by the news that the two were to merge.
Both Dungog and Gloucester councils were deemed unfit by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal in October.
Dubbo mayor Mathew Dickerson expressed his disappointment at the proposal to merge with Wellington, while Cootamundra mayor Jim Slattery was left reeling reeling that the Shire will be forced to merge with Gundagai Shire Council.
“All the work both shires (Cootamundra and Harden) put into the submissions and consulting with our community and they (the State Government) have come in over the top of us,” Cr Slattery said.
Wagga Wagga mayor Rod Kendall welcomed the decision to leave his council unchanged.
The state government has also proposed 15 new councils in Sydney city, which would bring the total number of metropolitan councils down from 43 to 25.
Analysis by KPMG of the proposed mergers showed financial benefits for NSW of up to $2 billion.
Professor Graham Sansom, who was the government's expert adviser on council reform, told Fairfax Media the merger proposals were a "crab-like step sideways" and several would struggle to meet criteria set out in the Local Government Act.
The public will be consulted on the proposals, and the process is expected to take up to a year.
Next September’s local government elections will be postponed.