Community efforts to demerge Snowy Valleys Council and Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council have been referred to the Local Government Boundaries Commission for formal assessment.
The announcement was made on Tuesday (26 February) by the NSW Minister for Local Government, Shelley Hancock, who said she had directed the independent Boundaries Commission to hold a public enquiry as part of the process.
The minister said she made the decision following extensive public exhibition of the proposals which resulted in a combined 1550 submissions being lodged by the local community and councils.
Of those, 533 submissions were received in relation to Snowy Valleys and 1017 submissions received for Cootamundra-Gundagai.
“The Boundaries Commission will now follow its own processes in accordance with the Local Government Act,” the minister said.
Ms Hancock said a variety of factors would be considered as part of the assessment.
“These would include financial advantages and disadvantages, the local community and geographic cohesion, the attitude of residents and ratepayers, and any impact on council operations and staff,” she explained.
“The Boundaries Commission will then provide me with statutory reports for consideration before I decide whether to recommend implementation of the proposals to the Governor,” she added.
The decision follows years of fierce campaigning by groups in the former shires of Gundagai and Tumbarumba who opposed the NSW Government’s 2016 announcement of forced mergers.
Snowy Valleys Council was established on 12 May 2016 following the amalgamation of Tumbarumba Shire Council and Tumut Shire Council, at the same time the former shires of Cootamundra and Gundagai were also forcibly merged.
Spokesperson for Save Tumbarumba Shire Dr Neil Henderson said the announcement was excellent news.
“We’re very pleased. We believe this is the natural progression under the Local Government Act – we spoke to the premier and the minister for local government recently and we have been assured that the submissions will be treated seriously and that seems to be the case,” he said.
“The issue now is that we have undergone the most drastic damage caused by the bushfires and the demerger is now even more urgent than it was before, so we are hoping the Boundaries Commission will act quickly and they will come to Tumbarumba and other towns in the shire as well – because there is enormous anger at the shire – so this process needs to happen quickly,” Dr Henderson said.
Cootamundra-Gundagai Mayor Cr Abb McAlister also welcomed the announcement and praised NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro and NSW Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke for their advocacy on behalf of disgruntled residents.
“I think it needs looking at – there are certainly some financial and other issues that need to be looked at,” he said, “I want to make sure the process is done right and looked at seriously and weighed up – pre-merger and post-merger.
“I can understand from Tumbarumba’s point of view that during the submission period they had bushfires and I know that is probably a big priority there at the present time – I’d certainly like to think it would be [resolved] in the next couple of months and prior to the election,” he added.
Snowy Valleys Council mayor Cr James Hayes said while the announcement was welcome, it was another step in the journey.
“I was against amalgamation when it was first mooted, but I was elected to try to make this work and my theory is that we’ll work with what we’ve got until the government in their wisdom changes it again,” he said.
NSW Member for Albury Justin Clancy and Member for Wagga Wagga Dr Joe McGirr were also contacted for comment.