Maitland Dungog merger proposal
On 14 February 2017, the NSW Government announced that it will not proceed with the proposed merger of Maitland City and Dungog Shire councils.
Council’s position has always been that Maitland is a strong stand alone entity.
Council will continue to work hard to provide the services the community expects both now and into the future. The organisation is in a strong financial position with a clear plan for the future.
Local government elections are expected to be held in September 2017, pending confirmation from the NSW Government.
Council merger submission
At the Council Meeting on Tuesday 12 April, Council adopted its formal submission in response to the State Government's Maitland Dungog merger proposal. This submission was formally lodged on Thursday 14 April with the Local Government Boundaries Commission.
Council’s submission highlights that the merger proposed by the State Government will not resolve the challenging circumstances faced by Dungog and its community. It is clear that without additional Government funding and changes to rating in Dungog, the merged Council would not be able to appropriately address the resulting revenue issues and the challenge of improving service levels in Dungog.
Council's submission is available to view here.
As part of the State Government’s local government reforms, Council has been formally advised that the Minister for Local Government, the Hon. Paul Toole MP, has made a proposal to amalgamate the existing areas of Maitland and Dungog into one new area. A merger inquiry process is now being undertaken by the Office of Local Government. This merger proposal is consequent to a decision by Gloucester Shire Council to propose an amalgamation of Gloucester, Great Lakes, and Taree councils, which if successful, could potentially leave Dungog without a merger partner.
Even though there will now be an inquiry into the proposal put forward by Gloucester, the original Gloucester Dungog merger inquiry will continue. Port Stephens have also formally put forward a proposal to merge with Dungog.
The Hon. Paul Toole MP has stated that the Government is continuing to work with councils on local government reforms underscoring the fact that no final decision has been made about any proposal.
It has always been, and continues to be, Maitland City Council’s position that Maitland is ‘Fit for the Future’ and that a stand alone model best meets the needs of both Council and the community. However, Council must now again consider its position in relation to a potential merger with Dungog.
How did we get here?
All councils in New South Wales have been participating in the State Government’s local government reforms. Through this program the Government is seeking to ensure that all councils are Fit for the Future and able to deliver the quality services and infrastructure that their communities deserve.
Initially the Fit for the Future program involved a self assessment to assess how councils were performing and how they can continue to provide the most efficient and cost effective services to their community.
At an extraordinary meeting held in June 2015, Council decided not to submit a merger proposal in response to the Government’s Fit for the Future program. Instead, Council’s submission to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) was based on a ‘Fit for the Future Improvement Proposal’ prepared by Morrison Low that would have Maitland continue as a stand alone council.
In October 2015, IPART released their report providing councils until 18 November to provide their feedback. This report noted that whilst Council met four of the five key criteria, being Financial, Sustainability, Infrastructure, and Service Management and Efficiency, Council did not meet the Scale and Capacity criterion. The IPART report also identified a possible merger between Maitland and Dungog councils.
At an extraordinary council meeting held on 16 November, Council unanimously rejected IPART’s assessment of Maitland as ‘Not Fit’. Whilst still maintaining that a stand alone model would be preferable, Council decided to nominate Dungog Shire Council as a potential merger partner. This decision was made on the basis that, if the Government decided to proceed with the merger, it would provide the best opportunity to represent and protect the interests of the Maitland community, by facilitating the involvement of the current Council in the formation and shaping of a new merged council.
In December 2015, the NSW Government responded to IPART’s report and the final Fit for the Future submissions. Maitland City Council was deemed ‘Fit for the Future’, validating Council’s position and the State Government announced its intention for Maitland to remain as a stand alone council, ruling out any mergers. At the same time, a proposal to merge Dungog and Gloucester councils was announced.
At the end of February 2016 at a meeting of the Gloucester Shire Council a proposal was put forward to merge Gloucester, Great Lakes, and Taree councils. This new proposal was then referred to the Office of Local Government. If this new proposal were to proceed, it would potentially leave Dungog without a merger partner.
Consequently, Maitland City Council was advised that the Minister for Local Government, the Hon. Paul Toole MP, has made a proposal to amalgamate the existing areas of Maitland and Dungog into one new area, and referred this proposal for investigation by the NSW Office of Local Government.
The Office of Local Government has appointed Dr Ian Tiley as the delegate to conduct the merger inquiry process for Maitland and Dungog, which is now underway.
This merger proposal does not change the assessment of Maitland City Council as ‘Fit for the Future’ nor does it affect the inquiry already underway into the Gloucester Dungog merger proposal.