11 November 2022

Cootamundra-Gundagai's demerger creeps closer as other councils enter the fray

| Edwina Mason
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One of 19 NSW councils created in a round of forced amalgamations in 2016, the CGRC won the right to be demerged in August 2022. Photo: Gundagai Council in Exile.

If the communities of Gundagai and Cootamundra were hoping for a quickie divorce they’re plumb out of luck.

It’s been just over two months since NSW Minister for Local Government Wendy Tuckerman made the decision to demerge Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council (CGRC) and just this week Office of Local Government (OLG) executives met with Cootamundra-Gundagai councillors and staff to provide an update on the demerger process.

OLG’s Executive Director, Ally Dench, said the meeting was an opportunity to meet face-to-face with councillors and staff, and to field questions relating to the demerger process.

“We recognise that the community and councillors want a swift outcome,” Ms Dench said.

The August demerger decision came after years of community agitation and public rallying against the forced amalgamation of Cootamundra and Gundagai shire councils. Photo: Gundagai Council in Exile.

“But this is an incredibly complex process with no recent precedent, and there are legislative, financial and community considerations that must be at the forefront, not to mention the wellbeing of staff.

“I’d like to thank councillors and staff for their time and we look forward to working more closely with them throughout the demerger process,” she said.

Ms Dench said a list of frequently asked questions was being finalised and would be shared with the public and regular updates would also be provided via the council’s communication channels, and through the OLG website.

One of 19 NSW councils created in a round of forced amalgamations in 2016, the CGRC won the right to be demerged in August 2022.

READ ALSO Escalating tensions prompt Coota-Gundagai demerger recommendation

This followed changes to the Local Government Act in 2021, allowing councils constituted within the past 10 years to submit a business case with supporting reasons to the minister for a de-amalgamation of an area.

Mrs Tuckerman said her decision was based on the merits of the proposal put forward by Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council and the subsequent recommendations and examination by the independent Boundaries Commission.

At the time Ms Tuckerman said it was anticipated council elections for the de-amalgamated shires would be held in line with the local government general elections in September 2024.

Three other NSW amalgamated councils – Canterbury Bankstown, Snowy Rivers Council and Snowy Valleys Council – recently voted to prepare business cases for a demerger.

Inner West Council (created by a merger of the Ashfield, Leichardt, and Marrickville councils) polled voters about the issue in 2021, with 62 percent of respondents favouring a demerger – and the council is now preparing its own de-amalgamation business case.

Demerging is also topping the business papers in Hilltops Council meetings with former mayor Brian Ingram expressing his disappointment a motion he has put to council had been rejected twice, the last in September.

“The motion was asking for council to undertake a business case to assess whether the merger of the former Young/Harden/Boorowa councils has been a success or a failure,” he said.

Cr Ingram said if the council’s accumulated deficits of $50 million over the past six years and the decline in levels of service were to be used as indicators, “you would have to assume that it has not worked and you would be correct, it has been a total failure (in my opinion)”.

Cr Ingram said an earlier motion asking the council to conduct a poll of electors to gain community guidance for Hilltops Council and to assess community sentiment regarding any demerger of Hilltops Council put forward in July 2022 had also failed.

He said that request followed an information poll on social media involving about 200 people; the overwhelming majority (83 per cent) voted in favour of demerging.

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