The mayors of both Byron and Ballina shires have emphatically stated they are not interested in a merger, despite the state government flagging council amalgamations as part of its Fit for the Future plan, announced on Wednesday.
Byron mayor Simon Richardson even went so far as to hose down the speculation of other mayors in the region about what might emerge as a result of the plan’s implementation.
‘The language coming from the Tweed and Lismore mayors on ABC radio yesterday sounded very pro-amalgamation,’ he told Echonetdaily.
‘They can fight over Kyogle if they want to,’ he added.
‘It’s true we need to be financially responsible. We weren’t slated for amalgamation – we’re even further away now that our finances are getting better – so I thought a lot of that language was potentially slightly disconcerting to our residents.’
Cr Richardson has welcomed the government’s plan, which includes $5.3 million earmarked to assist in the development of new regional Joint Organisations and access to cheaper finance and reduction of red tape that the government says will save councils $700 million.
But he added, ‘Although it’s well known that our area faces challenges with ageing infrastructure, high usage demands and limited revenue sources, for the past two years we’ve had a strong focus on securing council’s financial sustainability,’ he said.
Meanwhile, Ballina mayor David Wright says he doesn’t think Byron would be a ‘good fit’ with his shire.
‘I think the people who come to our shire come here for a special reason and that’s not to have that huge influx of people.
‘We have quite a few tourists and we’d like to have some more, but certainly not the influx that Byron Bay has,’ he told ABC radio this morning.
Ballina has made great play of its commercial arm raising additional revenue for the shire and is currently looking for a long-term operator to take over the running of the Ballina Airport, which it owns.
Cr Wright added, Ballina’s ‘entrepreneurial side had enabled it to keep up its infrastructure spending.
‘And we would be reluctant to have to shift and bring another council up to the same standard,’ he said.
Byron Council meanwhile has been at pains to point out the restructuring and economic stringency that has taken place under the current council and recently appointed general manager Ken Gainger.
In August council endorsed the second year of its Financial Sustainability Project Plan, with strategies to reduce expenditure, introduce efficiencies and sell property, as well as obtaining value-for-money procurement savings.
Mayor Richardson said there had been a reduction of senior staff as well as the creation of some strategic new positions including economic development, grants and events, outdoor staff and a procurement officer.
Our financial future, whilst still challenging, is now a brighter one and we look forward to being able to demonstrate our achievements to the state government via the Fit for the Future reforms,’ Cr Richardson said.
GM Gainger said, ‘a year ago we received a report card from the state treasury labelling council’s financial position as “weak and deteriorating”.
‘Since then council has adopted and implemented a range of measures that have steadily strengthened our financial position and enabled us to look to the future with confidence.’
‘Based upon the steady improvement in council’s financial indicators we will approach treasury and request that they undertake a further review of council’s financial sustainability,’ Mr Gainger said.
He said that he was confident that a revised assessment would lead to the council’s rating being upgraded.
‘Making such significant progress without having to raise council’s general rates above the annual rate peg limit is a great outcome for our ratepayers,’ he said.