Northern Sydney Mayors and General Managers welcomed the opportunity to debate the future of local government at the Destination 2036 Conference hosted by the State Government on 17-18 August in Dubbo.
The Northern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils and its member councils of Hornsby, Hunter’s Hill, Ku-ring-gai, Lane Cove, North Sydney, Ryde and Willoughby were all represented at this conference which sought ideas for local government reform and renewal.
“All member councils agreed that councils need to respond to change and continuously improve their operations. However simple amalgamations are not the quick fix for improving local government in NSW or northern Sydney” said NSROC President and Hornsby Mayor, Clr Nick Berman.
The Dubbo Conference agreed that ultimately communities want value for money, streamlined services and high quality neighbourhoods. Many of these outcomes are being achieved across councils today. For example through coordinated activities by NSROC, member councils collectively purchase products from asphalt to stationary, develop regional facilities and business centres like Chatswood Civic Centre and Macquarie Park and deliver regional solutions for improved water, bushland and catchment management.
What remains unresolved is identifying the right role for councils and state government and matching that with the financial and operational capacity to deliver. This was one of the key messages given to State government.
“While rates are capped by the State Government, amalgamations will not solve the underlying gap between councils’ revenues and essential spending. For example last year councils in the Sydney area were hit with a 50% increase in costs for streetlighting which they cannot refuse to pay but cannot raise rates to fund this cost increase.” noted Clr Berman.
Mayors are also seeking a more flexible Local Government Act which removes the restrictions on councils to run their business effectively and allows councils to generate profits to put back into their communities.
“Councils have local knowledge and familiarity with their community’s preferences and this is a great advantage when delivering services to their residents. Our councils are not afraid to discuss and consider reform options. However we are not going to jump to a single quick fix that unravels those benefits we are already achieving without creating improved outcomes.”