Council to investigate hosting formal poll on merger proposal

RESIDENTS of Kiama municipality could soon be headed to the polls to have their say on the state government’s proposal to merge Kiama and Shoalhaven councils. 

Kiama council will further investigate hosting a plebiscite to gauge public opinion on the proposal.

Kiama council hosted an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday evening to endorse its submission on the proposed merger. 

Kiama council general manager Michael Forsyth said the submission, to be presented to Delegate Greg Wright, contains strong evidence that the proposed merger is not suitable for either council, and the disadvantages significantly outweigh any advantages.

“According to IRIS Research, an overwhelming number of Kiama residents (92 per cent) oppose a merger involving Kiama and Shoalhaven councils,” Mr Forsyth said.

“The merged area is geographically too large and elongated, posing serious and significant management and representative challenges.”

Mr Forsyth said Kiama as a stand-alone council has a better operating performance ratio, infrastructure renewal ratio, backlog ratio and maintenance ratio.

“There are significant concerns regarding the credibility and tenacity of the KPMG report underpinning the merger proposal including assumptions and methodology used as a basis of the report,” a report to Tuesday’s council meeting stated.

During a recent visit to Kiama, Greens NSW MP David Shoebridge suggested Kiama council host a plebiscite to gauge public opinion on the proposed amalgamation. 

At the meeting, councillors unanimously resolved to investigate a formal poll of all residents and eligible ratepayers in accordance with the Local Government Regulation 2005, with the following question to be posed – “do you support the state government’s proposal to merge the Kiama and Shoalhaven local government areas?”

They also resolved to request that the general manager prepare an urgent report on the holding of that poll, outlining structure, cost and funding, to be submitted to a special meeting of council for authorisation. 

They further resolved to again urge the government to release the KPMG report. 

Mr Forsyth said he had not received a formal response from the delegate regarding a request for him to host a poll under the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act.

A council poll on the government’s proposal to merge Botany Bay City Council and Rockdale City Council will be held on Saturday, February 27.

Mr Forsyth said Kiama council would be looking at least a 40-day notice period, and perhaps up to 54 days, before a poll could take place.

The process having an estimated cost of up to $120,000 was discussed at the meeting. 

Councillor Andrew Sloan believed the turnout for a formal poll would be “massive”. 

“The government has not been transparent in terms of the justification for this amalgamation… There has been no opportunity for the residents of this community, and they all seem very riled up by this, to have a vote.

“It really is a diabolical sham, (what) this whole process has put this council through.

“It’s really having an impact on the community; they’re worried that the things that this council and this community have fought for, for a very long time could be lost.

“If the delegate’s not going to have one, we need to have one. That’ll keep the pressure on the state to understand just how passionate this community will be.”

Cr Neil Reilly said “we need to take this matter out of the hands of the politicians, and put it back into the hands of the people”.

Deputy Mayor Warren Steel raised concerns that the process “may backfire on us” if “we don’t get the numbers that we expect”.

“I’m confident that those that vote will be higher than the 92 per cent, but I’m concerned that we get bums on seats,” he said. 

“I’m concerned that we’re gambling that we’ve got to get people there on the day.”

Cr Dennis Seage said he wished to thank Premier Mike Baird.

“I think he has galvanised this community to a level where we have never, ever been as close as we are to one another,” he said.

“It is they (the government) who have forced our hand to spend this amount of money.

“We’re not volunteering to do it, we have to do this… This is the history of our municipality that we’re fighting for.”

Kiama Mayor Brian Petschler said there was a “legitimate right of the people that are going to be most affected by this proposal… To have a say in what happens to us”.

“If that’s the only way we can do it, by having a poll, that’s the only way we can do it, and we should do it.”

Residents wishing to voice their view on the proposed amalgamation have until the end of the month to do so.

Submissions will close on February 28 at 5pm.

Written submissions can be made at www.councilboundaryreview.nsw.gov.au or by mail: GPO Box 5341, Sydney, NSW, 2001. 

A final public hearing regarding the proposed merger will take place at the Milton-Ulladulla Ex-Servos Club on Thursday, February 25 at 7pm.

Kiama council has worked with and consulted a group of residents in determining the best way of conveying the council’s position and arranging the distribution of information and appropriate events and meetings. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, councillors resolved to form the resident advisory group as a committee of council, to afford it appropriate legal protection in any actions it undertakes. 

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