Geoff Helisma |
Clarence Valley’s councillors have unanimously supported general manager Ashley Lindsay’s recommendation to join a joint organisation (JO), which, if the councillors’ preferences are adopted by the NSW Government, will be comprised of Clarence Valley and Richmond Valley councils, Bellingen Shire and Nambucca Shire councils and Coffs Harbour City Council.
While there is no legal requirement for councils to join a JO, Mr Lindsay advised councillors in his report to the March 20 council meeting that not joining could result in “not having a voice at the regional level on matters that may impact the Clarence Valley community”.
Mr Lindsay also advised councillors that state and federal funding “made available to the JO … may not be forthcoming to Council if it remains independent of the JO structure”.
Councillors were not in favour of basing membership of the JO on the former MIDROC (Mid North Coast Regional Organisation of Councils) structure, which also included Port Macquarie-Hastings and Kempsey Shire councils, but did not include Richmond Valley Council – CVC joined MIDROC in August last year, after previously declining to join in March 2015 on advice from CVC’s former general manager.
The council had not responded to the Independent’s inquiry before the print deadline: How and when will the NSW Government decide the final make-up of each JO, given that (for example) Richmond Valley Council has resolved to join Kyogle, Tweed, Byron, Lismore and Ballina councils; and Kempsey Shire council has resolved to join a JO based on the former MIDROC membership?
The NSW Government intends to have the JO system up and running across the state on July 1, 2018.
“JOs will transform the way local and state governments work together to plan and deliver the things that matter to regional communities,” its regulation consultation guide states.
“They will give local councils a seat at the table in planning for important regional infrastructure and investment.”
At the March 20 council meeting, Mr Lindsay said he did not favour aligning with Port Macquarie-Hastings and Kempsey councils because they were too far away and had differing communities of interest to those of the Clarence Valley.
He said, after “looking further into the regional plan” that Port Macquarie was strategically linked with Kempsey and not Coffs Harbour.
The North Coast Regional Plan 2036 “clearly delineates the linkages from a transport and economic perspective”, he said.
“Having said that, I know the state and federal governments want to use the JO structure as the mechanism to negotiate – the bigger the JOs and the fewer JOs, the better it is for them.”
During debate, the mayor, Jim Simmons, was critical of the NSW Government’s apparent rushing of the process.
It “doesn’t allow CVC to put community consultation in place in a proper manner”, he said.
Councillors deferred their decision at the February meeting, “to allow the recently released draft regulations to be reviewed and discussed at the March Workshop”.
Mayor Simmons said he was wary of the “danger of significant” additional costs for local governments as a result of the implementation of JOs.
“In reality, it’s another layer in government,” he said. “…My experiences through life tell me that costs will escalate.”
Councillors Baker and Toms expressed similar views; Cr Kingsley described the process as “messy, rushed and unclear from the state government … but we still need to sit at the table”.
Councillor Williamson described debate on the matter as “constructive”, but he, too, was wary of CVC being lumped with additional costs.
The NSW Government will provide up to $3.3 million in seed funding for the proposed 11 JOs across NSW; this, the report to council stated, breaks down to about $42,000 per member council for 2018/19.