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Mayor warns on mergers

Posted Tuesday 10 April 2012mayor xmas 09

When considering a report on the recently formed Local Government Review Panel Mayor Anne Connon, at the April Council meeting, warned that the future autonomy of Mosman as a Local Government area was under threat – a full text of Councillor Connon’s speech follows.

The word ‘amalgamation’ crops up with monotonous regularity despite bi-partisan support for no forced amalgamations and the Liberal National Party 2011 election policy of ‘no amalgamations’.

Since the first meeting of the Leaders of Local Government held in May 2010 I have had my suspicions, but these were allayed, to some extent, by the continued talk by senior Government Ministers of the need to work as regions. This is exactly what we have been doing within SHOROC where we have been working and planning co-operatively. We are lobbying together and, as you already know, financially the region has already saved $1.6M through joint tendering.

But the State Government also wants Local Government areas to be more financially sustainable and forward looking. If we were not, or appeared not to be, financially sustainable, amalgamation could loom large on our horizon.

However, the progressive and sometimes tough decisions of the present Council have put Mosman in a sound position as the State Government reviews the structure and direction of Local Government. And by tough decisions I mean, for instance, the foreshore parking, MDAP and possible Bridgepoint advertising. Without the income from these areas the residents would be looking at a rate increase of 15%. Rate increases are always unpalatable and one of that size would result in huge resident unrest.

Those who forecast we would be struggling to raise $40,000 per annum from the parking look somewhat foolish now. You may recall a letter signed by seven vocal ‘big name’ objectors brought the competence of the staff in the preparation of their revenue projections into question, advising that Councillors would be personally accountable to justify the ‘revenue shortfall’. Wrong. They have not had the grace to apologise, and the innuendo continues. This attitude is only likely to add to a potential call for amalgamation.

Residents should remember that the vast majority of the monies raised, saving us from a potential 15% rate increase, will continue to go towards infrastructure renewal, an area which is the outstanding problem for all Councils Australia-wide. Keeping up the infrastructure will keep up the value of our homes, which for most of us in Mosman would constitute our largest financial asset.

I would also mention that we have been very successful in obtaining grant funding. You will recall that over the past 18 months we received $1.62M. The authorities do not hand out such sums unless they are confident in a Council’s financial position. So, I believe that whichever way you look at it, we are financially sustainable.

The other thing the State Government is interested in is the modernizing of governance structures, particularly after recent debacles in other Local Government areas. In particular, the abuse of the Ward structure for political gain. The campaign by some to reinstate Wards is a nonsense. Yes, I used my casting vote to give ALL residents the chance to vote for ALL candidates, and I did not take that decision lightly. If residents wanted to vote for the Mayor (a referendum decision), it makes sense to also vote across Mosman for the Councillors. I have had the opportunity to discuss with the Minister for Local Government as well as the Chief Executive of the Division of Local Government, both the issue of Wards and the use of the casting vote. They had no problem with my decisions, which I believe were both sensible and the right thing to do.

So, I have covered financial sustainability and the modernizing of Local Government structure. Would those with an underlying self-interested political agenda and a generally negative attitude, please note that unless they start supporting Mosman rather than denigrating it, amalgamation might just be on the horizon.

And what would that mean? Would we want to see our Council Chamber in Chatswood, North Sydney, Manly or Dee Why? And this building and its surrounding assets would likely be a fire sale with no assurance that the proceeds would be spent for the benefit of Mosman ratepayers. What a dreadful prospect.

I am extremely proud to be the Mayor of Mosman, and have left the Chair at this meeting to give you some of my thoughts on the matter of possible amalgamation. Be under no illusion – the autonomy of Mosman is under threat. Mosman should stand as one – not devalue the brand with short-term political self-interest. As the late Dom Lopez would say – Mosman is far too important.