Council stand against amalgamation 

IT WAS a vitally important meeting that will affect the future of the entire district, but there were only two local representatives there to voice our concerns over the possible amalgamation of the Bombala Council.

This is because the public consultation surrounding the NSW Independent Local Government Review Panel’s recent suggestion of a merger was held in Cooma at the difficult time of 5pm last Wednesday evening.

It must be noted of course that the hearing was not solely about potentially amalgamating Bombala, rather the Panel’s recently released discussion paper, ‘Future Directions for NSW Local Government: Twenty Essential Steps’.

But with the amalgamation recommended in the paper having a potentially massive effect on our district, it is still strongly felt by the local community that a public meeting in Bombala was warranted.

After all, the Panel suggests that Bombala merge with the Cooma-Monaro and Snowy River Councils, preferably linking together as a county to improve 

viability.

Thankfully the council information session that was held the following day, also in Cooma, was well attended by Bombala Council’s senior members of staff, our Mayor and several Councillors.

It was made very clear by chair of the sessions, Jude Munroe that the Panel was not visiting Cooma to enter into any debate over the suggestions made in its discussion paper.

The sessions were held to give a basic outline of the paper’s recommendations for the region, and to hear the views and concerns of the affected Councils and 

the public.

And one of the two community members who attended the public hearing on Wednesday night said that this was perhaps one of the most frustrating things about it.

“They did give us ample opportunity to have our say, and everyone was encouraged to comment, but you didn’t feel as though you could get any answers,” 

she said.

“I wanted to know, should this merger go ahead, what sort of service delivery those in the Delegate area, some 150kms away from Cooma, could expect. But while my concerns were noted, no information was offered.”

Cr Brad Yelds was amongst the crowd at the evening meeting, and made a presentation that aired Council’s concerns that our area is being judged as “at risk” solely on having a low population, not on how it performs.

This has been reiterated by Mayor Bob Stewart, who feels disappointed in the Panel’s process, which seems to look only at the fact that Bombala’s population comes in at under 5,000 people.

“They’ve made their recommendations based on one weak point, population,” he said.

“I believe very strongly that the Panel should have taken other things into account, like our very strong financial situation, and Council’s ability to manage.

“Our long term outlook is in fact very good, and it must be pointed out that we have never had a high population, but have survived very well.

“Should this merger go ahead, we’d be looking at at least ten job losses in Bombala, and I explained that this would have a significant effect on the Bombala area, reducing our population further.

“The Panel didn’t seem to see this as a major concern, and clearly just doesn’t understand country areas and the importance of every single job.” 

Ms Munroe explained that the Panel’s recommendations are all about the bigger picture, and improving the area’s overall regional advocacy.

It was explained that with the higher combined numbers of a county, our region would have stronger leverage with the State Government and could achieve far more for the entire Cooma Monaro, Snowy River, Bombala region.

It was also explained that there is a current ‘No Forced Amalgamations’ policy in place, and that the Panel’s idea is for the three local areas to come together to design their own merger so that it works for the whole.

It also should be noted that as part of Local Government policy, all Council jobs would be maintained for the first three years of any merger, so no immediate job losses would be suffered.

And it must be said that not all who were at the hearing were against the idea of a merger, with three people at least voicing support for the suggestion and believing it a step forward for the region.

But the Bombala Council feels it is already utilising a regional approach where possible, encompassing everything from emergency practices, through to weeds management, libraries and even the development of arts. 

It wants to continue this cooperative work while still maintaining the Bombala district’s autonomy to ensure local service delivery and secure jobs.

The community member who attended Wednesday night’s meeting said she felt that while the panel had some good ideas for strengthening the region, it seems to have no idea of the impact a merger would have on Bombala and surrounds, the “little guy” of the county.

The Bombala Council is now working on a formal submission to the Panel, which the Bombala Times intends to print as soon as it has been passed.

“The Bombala district are the ones facing the most negative consequences of a merger and we need to keep fighting to prevent the government from going ahead with the recommendation,” Mayor Stewart said.

“Council will continue to make sure we are only working towards beneficial reforms.

“The model we have now is working, and until they show me a better one, I am convinced we already have the best plan for managing the Monaro in our hands.”         

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