Report in favour of autonomy

THE Independent Local Government Review Panel's continued recommendation not to amalgamate the Kiama municipality with neighbouring local government areas has been welcomed by its councillors.

In its final report to the state government, the panel maintained its stance from its Future Directions paper, saying Kiama Municipal Council could stand alone.

Councillor Andrew Sloan was against change, printing bumper stickers reading "We Love Kiama, No Amalgamation" and leaving petitions in businesses.

He welcomed the report.

"I believe the panel has recognised that council has been well-managed for many years, and also that the distinctive character of the area and needs of the community will be best served by keeping decision making local," he said.

"I particularly would like to thank the thousands of residents . . . who signed a petition or displayed a . . . sticker."

The panel recommended sharing resources between Wollongong, Kiama and Shellharbour councils, termed a 'joint organisation' in the final report.

Cr Sloan said it remained to be seen what role the organisation would have.

"I hope that any new organisation will facilitate greater co-operation and sharing of resources, but without stripping core functions away from councils such as waste management or strategic planning," he said.

Kiama Mayor Brian Petschler welcomed recommendations to maintain the Local Infrastructure Renewal Subsidy to ease the pressure on councils using loans to upgrade infrastructure and for more assistance with pensioner rates rebates.

However, he was concerned a recommendation to distribute Financial Assistance Grants to councils most in need would take funds away from Kiama.

The council has already received $8 million less than it would have if the grants increased according to CPI.

While the report recommended infrastructure backlogs should be factored into rate rises and a move towards rate benchmarking to reduce costs to councils, Cr Petschler said proper planning should be put in place, approved by the community, before rates rose.

Public consultation on the final report is under way.

Local Government NSW president Cr Keith Rhoades AFSM attacked the state government for the March 7 deadline on public submissions.

He said councils should have until April to comment.

"There is no document more important for local government in NSW than this one," he said.

"The report is extremely detailed and complex and there are significant changes in the review panel's recommendations since the last discussion paper. We at Local Government NSW need time to consider the changes and the impact on the sector.

"Councils also need time to study it and consult with their communities on the numerous changes."

Cr Petschler agreed submissions should be open until April.

"The report in general is quite a good one and I'd hate to see it fall over because people didn't have the chance to have a proper look at it," he said.

See the report online at dlg.nsw.gov.au.

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