There was little talk of amalgamation at yesterday’s meeting of the local government review panel, set up by the state government to find ways to make councils more effective and financially viable.
All members of the Northern Region of Councils (NOROC) plus Byron Shire sent representatives to the meeting, held in Ballina’s council chambers yesterday morning.
Ahead of the meeting, Tweed Shire Council adopted an options paper, drafted by its new general manager David Keenan, looking at council boundaries. All of the six options put forward would have seen Byron Shire swallowed up by surrounding councils.
But outgoing Byron Shire mayor Jan Barham told Echonetdaily yesterday that the options barely got an airing and the councils represented were in broad agreement that the present configuration best served the needs of local residents.
‘The model that the new [Tweed] GM put forward is nothing more than an options paper,’ she said last night. ‘Elected representatives like where they are and the level of engagement they have with local communities. It would be a backward step to change that and there is no proof that it delivers economic benefits. What it does do is take away people’s sense of belonging.’
In a candid moment she added, ‘most elected representatives from other councils know the pressures Byron is under [because of tourism] and frankly I don’t think they want a bar of it.’
What the councils did agree on was the need for more funding, she said.
‘We’re pretty much in agreement about cost-shifting pressures, the changing needs of the population and the need for federal and state governments to support local government’s delivery of soft and hard infrastructure. We’re going to be faced with a lot of issues around an ageing population. It’s not just about hard infrastructure requirements but also home services and so on.’
Bed tax reconsidered
The impact of tourism and the associated pressures on council were the issues that set Byron apart, she said.
As a result of the meeting Byron may get the right to levy a bed tax on visitors, something that successive councils have considered.
Byron’s submission included provisions for accommodation and events levies.
Deputy mayor Basil Cameron defended the move, which has been roundly condemned by accommodation providers in the past.
‘It’s in the tourist industry’s interest that infrastructure is well maintained and looked after,’ he told ABC radio this morning. ‘Without it their lifeblood – the visitors – will stop coming. So if you want the benefits you’ve actually got to help the community pay for the impacts as well.’