WA mayors react angrily to limited funds for forced council mergers

WA mayors react angrily to limited funds for forced council mergers
By Jessica Strutt
Posted yesterday at 7:02pmWed 29 Oct 2014, 7:02pm

Councils say rates will inevitably rise after the West Australia Government confirmed it will only offer up to $15 million in grants and $45 million in loans for local government mergers.

The comments come as the Government plans to cut the number of metropolitan councils from 30 to 16.

Many mayors and the WA Local Government Association say the limited funds means ratepayers will now be forced to foot the bill and they are predicting rates will rise, especially in the short term.

Mayors were briefed last week on what new local council boundaries will look like under the changes and today the Minister for Local Government Tony Simpson met with them again to talk about the process and how it would be funded.

At the meeting Mr Simpson confirmed the figures.

The only new aspect was that the money would be made available sooner and repayable over a longer period.

I have no doubt in the short-term that rates will need to be increased to help fund the cost of amalgamations.
Troy Pickard
WA Local Government Association president Troy Pickard said the decision meant local governments would bear the majority of the cost of the State Government’s reform agenda.

“Given the Premier committed to fully fund the reform process in July last year we are disappointed that the State Government chose not to increase their initial offer of $15 million in grants and $45 million in loans,” he said.

“Unfortunately it will be the State Government who should be to blame for the increase cost that will appear on rate notices in future years.

“I have no doubt in the short term that rates will need to be increased to help fund the cost of amalgamations.”

City of Stirling Mayor Giovanni Italiano said he was very disappointed about the lack of funding and labelled the whole process a farce.

“I really think the State Government should put their money where their mouth is and pay up because why should my ratepayers pay for this amalgamation or in our [case] decimation,” he said.

Bassendean Mayor John Gangell predicted the cost to ratepayers from the Government’s local government reform would be astronomical.

“Expect rates to go up and up and up and up,” he said.

‘Bitterly disappointed’, says mayor

Kwinana Mayor Carol Adams described the funding being made available by the Government as woefully inadequate.

“The ratepayers and the new ratepayers of the City of Jervoise Bay will have to pay for this amalgamation,” she said.

“I think we are all bitterly disappointed, we went into the meeting with an air of expectation which now no longer exists.”

Mr Simpson said creating larger local governments was the best way to put downward pressure on rates.

“We don’t actually know the total cost of the reform process, each one is an individual case and is different to each other,” he said.

Because of the mechanisms being used to achieve the Government’s plans, only residents in six council areas will have the option of a vote before merging.

Under the Government’s plan to join the City of Belmont and the Shire of Kalamunda through a boundary adjustment, their residents are not entitled to a poll to allow them a say on the merger.

Kalamunda MP John Day, who is a senior Cabinet Minister, has previously said he shares the Shire of Kalamunda’s concerns about that process and vowed to work with them to get a fair and equitable deal.

At today’s meeting the Shire of Kalamunda president Sue Bilich presented Mr Simpson with the signatures of more than 300 residents requesting that they be given access to a poll.

But Mr Simpson immediately ruled that out, saying while he understood their concerns, they would not be given a poll.

“The only poll that is allowed to happen under the [Local Government] Act is under an amalgamation,” he said.

“That’s the only poll that is actually binding.

“Any other poll that you call isn’t binding so it would be going through a process for no outcome.”

Topics: local-government, perth-6000

More stories from Western Australia

Legislation a win for Perth mayor Lisa Scaffidi

The move is a huge win for Perth lord mayor Lisa Scaffidi, who has long been pushing for special legislation to have the City of Perth legally recognised to enhance its powers, stature and access to funding.

Mr Barnett hinted the proposed law could go further than just expanding Perth’s boundaries

“That might relate to voting structures and ward structures because you would not want residential voters to be able to control the central business district,” he said.

But that comment outraged Vincent mayor John Carey, whose residents appear set to be absorbed into an expanded City of Perth.

Mr Carey said it amounted to a gerrymander.

“So there will be extra weighting or extra representatives for the city,” he said.

“Under this system Vincent ratepayers will be treated as second class citizens.”

The Premier has faced a backlash from both Liberal and Nationals MPs over his plans to halve the number of metropolitan councils, but he was confident the legislation would be supported.

“Well it may not necessarily involve substantial change, there would be extra powers and stature to the City of Perth,” he said.

“I’d expect members of parliament to support that and I’d be very surprised if the Labor Party or the National Party opposed that.”

Last month, Mr Barnett said an expanded City of Perth was one of the primary motivations for council amalgamations.

“One of the prime, if not the prime reason for entering down the path of reform of local government in the metropolitan area was to create a true capital city that has all of the major infrastructure, all the iconic buildings if you like, in a capital city,” he said.

“We want to see a truly great City of Perth; a central business district council that’s Australia’s west coast capital, a city that can keep up with the rapidly growing and increasingly sophisticated cities of Asia.

“So that’s a prime policy direction of the Government, maybe something that wasn’t at the forefront of the minds of the Local Government Advisory Board because they simply have a boundaries role to perform.”

A long-awaited report on the new local government boundaries will be released next week.

Topics: local-government, state-parliament, perth-6000, leederville-6007

WA Government to legislate to expand City of Perth

WA Government to legislate to expand City of Perth, confer special powers
Updated Sat at 6:30amSat 18 Oct 2014, 6:30am
The City of Perth boundaries may be expanded to include Burswood and UWA under government plans. (By Florence Roca)
RELATED STORY: Perth will not get Burswood in proposed council boundaries

RELATED STORY: Liberal infighting over Perth taking Burswood

RELATED STORY: Simpson, Barnett clash over boundaries reform advice

The City of Perth will grow to include the University of WA (UWA) and the City of Vincent under legislation being planned by the State Government.

The move would also see Perth get special powers to recognise it as a capital city.

Premier Colin Barnett had previously called for the City of Perth to be expanded to include some of the key assets it had been lobbying for, including UWA and QEII Medical Centre.

But it is understood the Local Government Advisory Board had not recommended these areas in its review of council boundaries.

Mr Barnett said today legislative change would be needed to properly recognise the city as the state’s capital, similar to what had been done in other states.

“So there’s a number of aspects, there is City of Melbourne legislation and other states also have specialist legislation for their capital cities,” he said.

“But yes, we are looking to legislate.”

Legal Action Over Council Mergers

ABC News

Legal action against the WA Government’s plans to slash the number of local councils in the metropolitan area is expected to be officially launched in the Supreme Court today.

The ABC has confirmed the four parties to the legal action will be Vincent resident Ian Ker, the City of South Perth, the City of Subiaco and the Shire of Serpentine-Jarrahdale.

Other councils will provide financial support for the action but will not be named as parties.

The lawyer acting for the group, John Hammond, said the action would be against Minister for Local Government Tony Simpson and members of the Local Government Advisory Board, which is currently considering the Government’s proposed boundary changes.

Mr Hammond said he was expecting to lodge papers in the Supreme Court tomorrow seeking a judicial review.

He said the basis for the action was the Government had not complied with the Local Government Act and therefore the process was invalid.

“The argument to the Supreme Court that the State Government and the Local Government Advisory Board have not complied with the Local Government Act is a strong argument,” Mr Hammond said.

The Local Government Advisory Board is expected to report to Mr Simpson this month on the proposed boundary changes.

The ABC understands the parties to the legal action may seek an injunction to stop that report being considered by the Minister, which could impact on the Government’s timeline for implementing the mergers of metropolitan councils.

Premier Colin Barnett has previously said he was confident there were no grounds for a legal challenge.

“I can’t see that a legal challenge would succeed but I just urge people in local government to look forward and not look back,” Mr Barnett said in March.

Perth mayors previously threatened to walk away from the process unless more money was found to fund it.

The state budget set aside $60 million for amalgamations – but $45 million of that is in the form of loans, which must be paid back with interest.