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Dungog mayor slams Fit for the Future decision

Dungog mayor Cr Harold JohnstonDungog mayor Harold Johnson said the state government has shown no sympathy or consideration for the shire after it was deemed unfit for the future last week.
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“The Fit for the Future process was started four years ago as part of the Destination 2035,” he said.

“Then last year the government asked us [local government] how would we be fit in five years time.

“Six months ago we had a major disaster in town and they haven’t shown any compassion, they have just kept going with their agenda.”

Dungog Council is one of 87 councils in New South Wales deemed unfit under the Fit for the Future criteria established by the state government.

Of the 139 proposal received from 144 councils state-wide, only 52 were found to fill the fit category in a report released on Tuesday morning.

A report by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) said council did not demonstrate that its proposal to stand alone would be as good as or better than the merger with Maitland City Council.

The report said their analysis suggests council does not have sufficient scale to cost-effectively deliver services to its community and to partner effectively with governments compared to the merger.

“Both Maitland and Dungog councils are understaffed and I can’t see why you would want to merge two councils that have deemed unfit,” Cr Johnston said.

“Consulting firm Morrison Low prepared the report for us and more than 40 other councils and I don’t believe the government listened to a word they said.

“Dungog’s rates are the lowest in the region, but whatever way it goes, there will have to be a significant rate rise.

“If we increase our rates to 13 per cent per annum over five years, and I’m not saying this is what we are going to do, then it would take us three years to catch up to Maitland’s residential rates.

“I think the government is on its own path and is not listening to any reasonable argument.”

Dungog council will hold meetings in the coming weeks to discuss its future with local communities.

“We need to talk to the communities, not only about rate increases, but efficiencies as well,” he said.

“For example, do 9000 people need eight community halls and three museums?

“I’m not saying they are in the firing line. It’s not for us to decide, but the community.

“We will be guided by what the community wants.

Council has 30 days to respond to the state government about Fit for the Future.

Merger decision wrong for Maitland and Dungog, says GM

By Nick Bielby

Maitland City Council’s general manager David Evans

Maitland City Council general manager David Evans says the need for Dungog Shire Council to merge with Maitland formed the basis for his council to be considered unfit for the future.

The state government released the findings of an assessment by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal on Tuesday, which deemed Maitland and Dungog councils unfit to ­continue as lone entities and recommended they merge.

It came despite Maitland ­having met four of the five benchmarks.

The merger recommendation has been roundly slammed from both sides of the council boundary, given Maitland and Dungog each formally rejected the possibility of a merger in June.

In a statement released on Tuesday night, Mr Evans said it was incongruous to suggest Maitland did not meet the scale and capacity criteria when other Hunter councils, such as Port Stephens, Cessnock and Singleton, did.

“The determination that Maitland City Council did not meet the scale and capacity to be deemed Fit for the Future was based singularly on the suggested need for Dungog council to consider merging with Maitland,” he said.

“IPART agreed with council’s submission that it met all other criteria necessary to be deemed Fit for the Future including, financial, sustainability, efficiency and infrastructure, and service management criteria.

Maitland City Council mayor Peter Blackmore

“The merger business case ­prepared by Maitland and Dungog councils clearly demonstrated that there were virtually no savings to be generated from a merger, and that in fact the merged council would need to employ a significant number of additional staff to maintain services, and raise additional revenue to meet operating costs and to deal with infrastructure backlogs.”

The mayor of Maitland, Cr Peter Blackmore, said that the finding was beyond reason.

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