The idea of amalgamating Byron Shire with another local council – which was raised last week by Byron United president Paul Waters – has been knocked back by the mayor and deputy mayor.
Mr Waters is seeking feedback from his members for the proposal, which he says could create ‘economies of scale’ that would alleviate the Shire’s deteriorating infrastructure. The comments come after Byron Shire Council’s (BSC) 2012–13 budget and long-term outlook, which sees BSC continue to struggle financially with a relatively small rate-base.
Mr Waters told Echonetdaily, ‘Economy of scale seems to work for larger councils and other council areas that have been subjected to amalgamation in Queensland and Victoria’.
But councillors have disagreed with the idea, saying the blame lies with the state government’s policies and inaction.
Mayor Jan Barham told Echonetdaily it would be a disastrous outcome for Byron Shire.
‘No doubt we need more money, but it wouldn’t solve any major issues financially and it would take away the autonomy of our residents. We have a right to be different; our reputation is built on that as well as our efforts to protect diversity in the region.’
She said she’s been lobbying at state level for more council infrastructure in recognition of the pressure that tourism puts on councils. ‘The only funding from the state government that councils receive [in relation to high-level tourism] is tourism marketing,’ she said.
Region doesn’t have to change: Waters
Mr Waters argues, however, that our region doesn’t have to change to accommodate other shires.
‘As an example, Cassowary Coast incorporating Mission Beach (not unlike Byron Shire) have amalgamated with surrounding shires. Tully is still Tully, Innisfail is still Innisfail, Cardwell is still Cardwell… and Mission Beach is still like Byron. It’s a fear that is unfounded – parochialism, or at worst, a drawbridge mentality. I do agree with the mayor that both state and federal governments should tip funds into infrastructure like foreshore parks, toilets and some roads. The old “blame tourism” comment is wearing a bit thin as it’s only a part of the problem.’
Cr Basil Cameron also weighed in, saying that the low rate-base is only part of the story.
‘A major reason for the infrastructure backlog in Byron Shire is the large number of visitors to the area who are unable to make a financial contribution to the local area through measures such as a bed-tax because of state government restrictions.
‘Rate pegging does not allow high-growth coastal areas such as Byron Shire to keep service and infrastructure provision up to the pace of population and visitor growth. Cost shifting continues to be a burden for local government taking around six per cent of rate revenues.
‘Byron Shire receives the lowest amount of federal Financial Assistance Grants paid through the state government compared to other local government areas in the northern rivers. Over the last ten years, Byron Shire has received more than $50 million less than the highest recipient in the region (Richmond Valley).’
Failure of state govt: Cr Cameron
‘A key issue for northern rivers communities has been the failure of successive state governments to provide infrastructure within the region, especially in the critical areas of regional roads and public transport. The state government needs to reform the policy framework it sets for local government and rapidly increase funding for infrastructure if the financial sustainability of local government is to be improved.’