Brighton to consult ratepayers on amalgamation options

BRIGHTON Council will seek the views of ratepayers and the local community on the push for council amalgamations and options for sharing services with neighbouring councils.

Mayor Tony Foster said while a number of vested interests were strongly pushing their opinions, the impact of any change would be felt by all ratepayers, and Brighton Council wanted to get the views of its community on this crucial issue.

This week Council approved conducting a residents’ survey on a range of merger options and other associated issues to assist its consideration of the State Government’s voluntary amalgamations program.

Cr Foster said this was in line with the Government’s encouraging councils to further consult with ratepayers. Had Brighton Council not acted, the Government could implement studies that might not be in the best interest of Brighton ratepayers.

In November last year, the Minister for Local Government Peter Gutwein wrote to councils encouraging them to begin a process of investigating voluntary amalgamations.  The Minister said any amalgamations must be in the interest of ratepayers, improve the level of services for communities, preserve and maintain local representation and ensure that the financial status of the entities is strengthened.

Cr Foster said Brighton was playing a leading role in boosting efficiency through the sharing of services with other councils and had established a managed common service joint venture that now comprised seven councils, with others looking to join.

“We have also agreed to undertake internal studies to compare Brighton Council with its expanding shared services to a stand-alone council with no shared services.

“Council will then determine future actions based on the results of the community survey as well as these studies.”

Cr Foster said Brighton’s current preferred option was for no amalgamation and it had not received any substantive request from neighbouring councils to undertake joint feasibility studies in line with the Minister’s policy.

“We did receive a letter from the Clarence City Council, which was sent to their neighbouring municipalities, inviting participation in a feasibility study to explore the option of voluntary mergers and/or shared services.

“But we have not received any correspondence regarding the voluntary amalgamation process from any other council.

“Accordingly, the proposed community survey and other actions are considered to be the most appropriate means of dealing with the Minister’s request for councils to advise him of their willingness to explore the option of voluntary amalgamations and/or shared service models.

“I will now be writing to the Minister letting him know Brighton Council’s approach and advising him of our actions,” Cr Foster said.

The residents’ survey will be finalised over the next week and be conducted over the first two weeks in May. Following the data analysis, the results will be considered by Council at the end of May.