Vince Kelly, East Ballina
Despite the political denials, forced council amalgamations are clearly on the state government’s agenda.
On 5 July 2012 the Department of Local Government (DLG) sent a circular to NSW councils advising that the government had instructed the NSW Treasury to undertake a financial sustainability analysis of all NSW councils. This circular can be viewed on the DLG website.
A report on the sustainability exercise is due to be submitted to the government at the end of this year. The hidden agenda is to give the government the political ammunition to force the amalgamation of some councils. From a financial perspective the government is looking to spread the capital resources of some councils across wider populations.
Any amalgamation involving Ballina Shire Council would be disastrous for Ballina ratepayers. Ballina council has a $40 million commercial investment property portfolio that represents ratepayers’ funds. An amalgamation may see the capital of this portfolio reallocated to fund the repayment of debt and/or providing facilities to other council areas. The risk of this has been pointed out to Ballina councillors on many occasions over the years but they have naively chosen to ignore it.
A change of strategy is required. Instead of continuing to allocate large sums of capital to commercial property investments, Ballina Council needs to progressively reallocate the portfolio capital to reduce its own massive infrastructure backlog and fund other badly needed community facilities. Once the capital is invested in local infrastructure it cannot be taken away from the Ballina community.
This is a classic case of use it or lose it.