25 November 2022

Newcastle Uni to prepare business case for demerging Snowy Valleys Council

| Edwina Mason
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Save Tumbarumba Shire supporters – or the ‘orange army’ – have long railed against the forced merger of their shire with Tumut to form Snowy Valleys Council. Photo: Save Tumbarumba Shire.

Snowy Valleys Council (SVC) has taken a step closer to potentially demerging after agreeing to engage the University of Newcastle to undertake the preparation of a business case.

Mayor Ian Chaffey said it was good to see the process finally being addressed after months of debate and years of agitating by opponents of the 2016 forced amalgamation of the former Tumut and Tumbarumba shire councils.

“We have decided to go with the University of Newcastle to prepare the business case which will look at all the options that exist, what the impediments are to SVC, and the opportunities that exist for demerger,” Cr Chaffey said.

He said part of the reason the council went down the path of the Newcastle proposition was the level of engagement that is expected to occur within the community, among council staff, all councillors and, “anyone wishing to have an input into the future of Snowy Valleys Council or the two demerged entities”.

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“There’s a process that council has to go through and a lot of imponderables to present so at least the process is started and that’s the main thing,” Cr Chaffey said.

Councillors discussed the opportunity at their November meeting and also resolved to allocate $100,000 to the project, noting this would increase the forecast 2022/23 deficit by the same amount.

The business case, including an independent financial review, will be reported back to the council for consideration and independently peer reviewed as part of the preparation process.

Save Tumbarumba Shire supporters have welcomed the news Newcastle University has been engaged to undertake preparation of a business case for demerging Snowy Valleys Council. Photo: Save Tumbarumba Shire.

Cr Chaffey said the anticipated timing for completion of the business case will be negotiated with Newcastle University with the aim of expediting the results of the study.

The decision follows a recent meeting between Cr Chaffey and NSW Local Government Minister Wendy Tuckerman to seek clarification on the demerger process.

Snowy Valleys Council had written to the Minister requesting a previous recommendation of the NSW Local Government Boundaries Commission (LGBC) to demerge SVC be upheld.

The LGBC, after an extensive review, had voted 3-1 in favour of the demerger but this recommendation was rejected by then local government minister Shelley Hancock in July 2021 due to dissenting reports.

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But changes to legislation in 2021 allowed merged councils to submit a business case for de-amalgamating, resulting in the August 2022 decision to demerge Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council.

Cr Chaffey had previously described the Cootamundra-Gundagai decision as “galling”, after being denied permission to demerge despite a similar recommendation from the Boundaries Commission.

“Councillors agreed that not having to put together a new business case would reduce the financial burden and any further risk to the emotional health of the Snowy Valleys community,” he said.

But on meeting the Minister the mayor said the issue was clarified that a new business case must be prepared by Snowy Valleys Council.

Cr Chaffey said the council had accepted this course of action and was hopeful the matter could be resolved before the September 2024 local government elections.

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