Councils call for change

Central Coast Council Administrator Rik Hart at the conference

Central Coast Council Administrator Rik Hart threw his support behind calls for financial sustainability for councils at the NSW Local Government (LGNSW) conference this week.

Hart said it was great to hear from a broad variety of councillors, MPs, panellists and other speakers.

“It’s clear that the key challenges for councils are largely consistent across the state,” he said.

These included the challenge to address increasing demand for services and infrastructure with diminishing and/or inconsistent financial resources to do so.

Hart said reduced or inconsistent resources were due to a variety of external pressures such as inflation and cost shifting.

“The ability for councils to keep pace with these external pressures and the financial impacts of lifts in service provision is proving increasingly difficult for councils,” he said.

Hart voted in support of Strathfield Council’s call for LGNSW to lobby the State Government to address the negative impacts of its cost shifting activities on local government finances.

Strathfield Council said “cost shifting” referred to the practice of the State Government transferring its financial responsibilities for services or programs to local councils without providing adequate financial support.

The conference agreed to ask the State Government to commit to fully funding the programs and services that it mandates local councils must administer.

It also wants the State to hold a comprehensive fiscal impact assessment before transferring any new responsibilities such as the recent increase in the Emergency Services Levy (ESL) which the Government imposed on all councils without warning this year.

LGNSW said the levy increase for the State’s 128 councils in 2023/24 amounted to almost $77M, increasing from $143M in the previous year to $219M in 2023/24 – representing a 53.1 per cent increase.

The conference agreed to lobby the State Government to provide funding for the Rural Fire Service annual repairs and maintenance budget for the firefighting fleet, including annual indexation based on the Consumer Price Index.

The conference also called for the establishment of transparent mechanisms for revenue sharing between State and Local Governments.

Hart said the state of local government assets and the ESL were two key matters which have major impacts on councils’ bottom lines and long-term financial sustainability.

“Changes to how these matters are dealt with will hopefully bring positive changes going forward,” he said.

Hart also voted in support of two motions which were adopted calling on the State to review the Local Government Act 1993.

He said he was pleased to see reform was proposed.

Both Newcastle Council and Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council called for a review of the 30-year-old Act.

Newcastle’s motion acknowledged the role played by metropolitan, regional and rural councils in servicing their communities and said the needs of each community were different and not currently reflected in the Act, in terms of both governance and funding.

The conference supported changes to the Act that would redress the imbalance created in 1993 by restoring functions to elected officials based on their metropolitan, regional and rural contexts.

Coota-Gundagai said the Act has been amended at various times over the years.

“At the very least, it would seem appropriate that the Act be reviewed to ensure that the intent of the principles that drove the development of a new Local Government Act in 1993 have not been unnecessarily offended with the various amendments to the Act and that the Act remains fit for purpose as a governance framework for local government in NSW,” the regional council said.

Merilyn Vale

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