Byron, Ballina and Tweed councils will not have to merge under recommendations released by the NSW local government review this week. But they would share an overarching county council structure to deliver a range of shared services.
Lismore City Council, however, could be forced to take on the weak and declining Kyogle Shire.
The alternative recommended option is for Kyogle to merge with Richmond Valley Council, which is itself in a very weak position, the report says. According to the report, Kyogle’s population is in decline and would be little more than 9,000 by 2036.
The report says that ‘an overriding consideration for rural councils is the weakness of their own source revenue base relative to their service delivery and infrastructure responsibilities.
It blames ‘cost shifting’ for part of the predicament some councils find themselves in
‘In many cases those responsibilities have tended to expand to fill service gaps resulting from the withdrawal of state and federal agencies or a declining private sector. Nevertheless, the weakness exists,’ the report says.
‘The Panel believes that more can and should be done to channel additional support to rural-remote councils. However, this cannot be in the form of “blank cheques”: rural-remote councils, like their urban counterparts, need to show that they are taking all possible steps to address whatever challenges and difficulties they face.’
The Panel concludes that ‘amalgamations are not always a popular solution and that maintaining local identity is important’ but says ‘properly planned, mergers can produce stronger, more effective councils, and that community identity can be maintained’.
The report also recommends larger county council groupings to deliver a range of shared services, as opposed to the single-issue county councils which currently exist.
It recommends that Byron, Ballina, Lismore and Tweed remain standalone councils but within the umbrella of a broadened Northern Rivers County Council.