As a number of councils across NSW begin to investigate the feasibility of de-amalgamation, Northern Beaches Council has affirmed its position to stay in its current form.
The Demerge NSW Alliance (DNA) and Residents for Deamalgamation (RFD) organised a rally at NSW Parliament House last Tuesday, 9 August, to push its case for demergers six years after the NSW Government forced local councils across the state to amalgamate.
Disgruntled residents of Pittwater were alongside those from Cootamundra-Gundagai, Inner West, Guyra, Hilltops, Bombala, Tumbarumba, Canterbury Bankstown and the Central Coast council areas joined DNA and RFD at the protest.
However, Northern Beaches Mayor Michael Regan told Manly Observer a demerger wasn’t on the cards, arguing the case to stay merged was far more compelling than to de-amalgamate due to increased efficiency savings of more than $160 million.
“Northern Beaches Council was formed under the NSW Government amalgamation policy and we are now six years down the track in solidifying the efficiencies and gains from merging the three former councils,” the Mayor said.
“In 2018/19, an analysis was completed on benefits generated by the Northern Beaches Council since it was created in May 2016.
“Over a 10-year time frame to 2025/26 efficiency savings are estimated to be $161.6 million (net present value).
“This exceeds the NSW Government’s estimate of $76.3 million over 10 years for Northern Beaches Council.
“These savings are being reinvested back into the community through improved service levels and priority infrastructure. Council continues to deliver efficiencies each year including $1.8m in the 2022/23 Budget,” he said.
However, Pittwater ward councillor Miranda Korzy labeled the amalgamation “undemocratic”, arguing that it had effectively robbed many communities like Pittwater of their voice.
“Pittwater residents didn’t ever want to be amalgamated. The Council paid for research to be done before the amalgamation that showed that 87 percent of residents wanted to retain Pittwater Council,” Cr Korzy claimed.
“The whole amalgamation process was very undemocratic. No one was ever given a vote on it. That’s the underlying issue – the public deserves a vote.”
Cr Korzy said she was in support of calls to survey local residents on their views of amalgamated councils which was being pushed by NSW Labor.
“We’ve basically had a loss of democracy in Pittwater. It shows in some of the votes on the council and we’ve now only got two councillors that come from Pittwater. We basically have two parties which control the votes in the council and it makes it hard for minor parties or independents who don’t have a lot of money to actually stand and getting elected,” she said.
“The public should be given a choice. The Labor party has said if they’re elected (in NSW) they will support plebiscites in the original council areas. Pittwater residents will get a say for Pittwater and Warringah residents will get a say for Warringah about whether they want to be de-amalgamated.
Manly residents were not referenced and we are not aware of any movement for Manly Council to be reprised. We are, however, aware of discontent over other ward councillors looking to defund the popular Hop Skip Jump bus, and the 26% rate increase which affected Manly residents under the rate harmonisation process.
Cr Vincent de Luca has on several occasions spoken during Council meetings about his concern over staffing costs since the merger, arguing true savings had not been realised as promised.
Cr Korzy said she was not critical of staff at Northern Beaches Council as many had significant expertise in their chosen field. She said if demerged the neighbouring councils could look at ways of sharing resources like garbage collection to continue any efficiencies achieved by amalgamation.
Mayor Regan said that the merger allowed council to fix decaying infrastructure that was not being maintained under the former council areas in the Northern Beaches.
The new council was also able to pay down a $76.7 million legacy debt by 30 June 2022 that the former councils could not, he added.
“Our larger size and capacity have enabled us to weather the $41 million hit to our budget from the pandemic and even given back to ratepayers and local business at the height of the lock down impacts,” Mayor Regan said.
“It has also ensured we are in better position and to advocate for the whole Northern Beaches and we have been very successful in attracting grants and other benefits for our community.
“There would be a significant cost in demerging the Council again now and all the gains would be lost.”
A demerger rally media release stated the mergers had failed to make councils efficient and responsive to residents’ needs.
“After six years we are beginning to see that there is more to the damage than just finances,” DNA’s Grantley Ingram said.
Save Our Councils Coalition (SOCC) is calling on the NSW Government to poll residents across NSW to determine their satisfaction with the performance of merged councils.