BY JADE MORELLINI
The festive season is meant to be a time of giving, but that’s not the case for the State Government, which has reneged on their promise to reimburse Waverley, Woollahra and Randwick District Councils of $1,068,996 for the merger preparation costs.
On the 27th July, the NSW State Government announced all proposed local council mergers would not proceed in their controversial forced amalgamations program, which included Waverley with Woollahra and Randwick Councils.
Waverley then wrote a letter to the Office of Local Government asking for a reimbursement of the merger preparation costs, but were turned down.
A spokeswoman for the Local Government Minister said, “The NSW Government’s New Council Implementation Fund guidelines state funds are not to be used for merger costs incurred before an amalgamation.”
This means that the State Government does not formally have to pay the Councils back. Mayor of Randwick Council, Lindsay Shurey, said, “I’m disappointed that the NSW Government has not followed through on their assurance that they would financially reimburse Councils for all the costs incurred while preparing for mergers.
When Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced in July that the mergers were off, she also stated that Councils, such as Randwick, who had incurred costs in preparation for the merger, would be ‘taken care of’. This is a broken promise.”
Mayor of Waverley Council, John Wakefield, said, “Waverley Council went about the processes of abiding by their forcing us to merge, and conducted the processes we needed. They were prepared to give Waverley Council, Woollahra Council and Randwick Council 10 million dollars each, that’s 30 million dollars in total if we merged! And that money was meant to cover our costs of the merger.”
Waverley Council had to put a lot into preparing for the merger, such as hiring new staff, training them up and spending countless hours on the project.
“We needed to employ up to 50 staff full time to work on the project and we incurred an enormous amount of direct costs of hiring and consulting as well as a huge amount of indirect costs,” Cr Wakefield said.
The council is more concerned with the time that was spent on preparing for the merger, stating that they could have spent their time on more productive things.
“We could have been working on something else, so there’s opportunity lost there,” Cr Wakefield said. “Staff could have been planning new projects, involving themselves into new studies for the future of the area, but instead they were working on the merger.”
“Randwick Council worked hard to prepare for the proposed amalgamation with Woollahra and Waverley Council,” Cr Shurey said, “so that our residents and ratepayers would not be negatively affected by the disruption,”.
Ratepayers are now out of pocket of over one million dollars and the money lost could have been spent on improving and providing for the community.
“It would pay for five pedestrian crossings, a new complete set of the integrated traffic lights, it would have paid for the upgrades to a playground!” Cr Wakefield said. “It’s not an insignificant amount of money when you think of what it could have done. It could have employed 10 extra people to clean up rubbish; an awful lot it could have done. Its more than a principle, its underlying, we went about abiding by what they wanted us to do and now they are not prepared to give us anything to cover the costs they forced on us and they expect us to have our rate payers pay that cost.”
“It’s not fair that ratepayers should now have to pay for the indecision and backflipping of the State Government,” Cr Shurey added.