Port Stephens-Newcastle merger presses pause on un-budgeted projects

MERGER EXPERIENCE: Port Stephens Council general manager Wayne Wallis has been through two mergers and was the chief of another council that dissolved an amalgamation. Picture: Sam Norris
MERGER EXPERIENCE: Port Stephens Council general manager Wayne Wallis has been through two mergers and was the chief of another council that dissolved an amalgamation. Picture: Sam Norris

PORT Stephens Council will adhere to a state government moratorium on un-budgeted projects while a merger is considered with Newcastle.

NO BENEFIT: Port Stephens Council general manager Wayne Wallis said there was no foreseeable benefit to merging with Newcastle. Picture: Sam Norris

NO BENEFIT: Port Stephens Council general manager Wayne Wallis said there was no foreseeable benefit to merging with Newcastle. Picture: Sam Norris

All councils earmarked for amalgamation have been directed to manage their budgets responsibly so that future councils aren’t laden with further debt.

“If there’s anything [financially] that might have a big impact on our future strategic planning the council will have to consider it carefully,” Port Stephens Council general manager Wayne Wallis said.

“There’s good reason for it so councils don’t go crazy with their budgets and spend money that hasn’t been through due process.”

The moratorium began on January 6 when the Office of Local Government launched its consultation period with councils and residents.

Mr Wallis said the Ferodale sports complex was “already in the budget” though not fully-funded as yet.

Other big ticket items that haven’t been to a vote aren’t likely to get up for at least six months.

“We’re now in a merger period and that will exist until the Minister for Local Government [Paul Toole] announces the outcome for councils,” Mr Wallis said.

An amalgamated Port Stephens-Newcastle council would have 230,000 residents but only a third of them would live north of the Hunter River.

The merged council could access up to $10 million for community infrastructure benefits.

Mr Wallis has been through the merger process twice, in Victoria and Queensland, and was the CEO of one council that rescinded a failed amalgamation. 

From his experience Mr Wallis said there was no benefit in this merger to Port Stephens residents whatsoever.

“It’s proposing a lot of benefits for Newcastle but none that we can see for our residents and ratepayers,” he said.

“It would seem [the premier’s office] wants to have our financially strong council prop up Newcastle council.

“There are no metrics to say that a bigger council is necessarily better.

“Smaller is often OK if it stacks up financially and generally councils along the coast are viable.”

People can comment on the proposed merger until February 28 at www.councilboundaryreview.nsw.gov.au.

“Everyone will be encouraged to put a submission in,” Mr Wallis said.

General managers from across the state attended a briefing in Sydney on January 7, a day after the consultation process opened.

Thirty-five councils are poised for mergers under the state government proposal.

The boundaries commission is expected to announce its findings mid-year.  

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