Wingecarribee Shire Council has been deemed Fit For the Future by the NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART).
IPART was asked to assess councils by the NSW Government as part of a four year process of local government reform. Despite having the highest rate of code of conduct complaints in the state last year and seeking a rate rise of up to 46%, Wingecarribee has been deemed fit for purpose over the following decades.
Neighbouring councils Wollondilly Shire, Wollongong City and Shoalhaven City were also deemed fit, while Goulburn Mulwaree Shire, Shellharbour City and Kiama Municipality were deemed ‘unfit’. Only one third of New South Wales’ 152 local governments was deemed fit to continue in their current form.
Local Government Minister Paul Toole said $2billion could be saved if ‘unfit’ councils were merged.
Some councils that did propose mergers were deemed fit once those mergers take place, but it is unclear at this stage what will happen to those councils deemed unfit. The government could seek to force amalgamations, despite having promised this would not occur.
The government has given councils until November 18 to respond to IPART’s report and says that both councils who are assessed as being unfit and those who neighbour unfit councils must express merger preferences by that date.
Wingecarribee Shire’s Mayor Larry Whipper welcomed the assessment. “This is great news for Council and the residents of the Shire,” he said. “It means our Shire will remain independent and avoid a merger with a neighbouring Council.”
“But more importantly, it means we will retain our unique Southern Highlands character and identity. This means we can focus our funding and efforts on our own Shire’s citizens.”
The General Manager Ann Prendergast said the announcement showed the state government has confidence in Wingecarribee Shire Council. “It shows that they support the ongoing viability of our Shire in moving forward in the years ahead,” she said. “I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the staff from Council who worked tirelessly on our proposal that ultimately ensured Wingecarribee Shire Council was fit for the future.”