Waverley Council financial operations are under the scope after the release of the draft Sydney Metropolitan Plan, sparking renewed speculation over amalgamation.
The State Government’s plan has placed fiscal accountability as crucial in the development of Sydney’s transport and infrastructure for 2031. The government is currently assessing the merit of amalgamating the 152 councils in NSW.
Labor Councillor Ingrid Strewe criticised Council over the management of finances, pointing to negligent spending and increasing fears over amalgamation talks.
“We had a mooted multimillion dollar deficit in 11 years time for Council. My contention was if we slowed down on the spending a little we would not have that deficit and that’s what they’ve done,” she said.
Ms Strewe said the application for a 120 per cent rate rise with “gold-plated infrastructure” had been the catalyst behind the discussions about financial sustainability and amalgamation.
“I think [the Liberals] realised they had put us in a precarious position due to the amalgamations. Because of this, they’ve stopped raising the fear over the deficit,” she said.
Mayor Sally Betts from the Liberal Party countered a rate rise was necessary as Labor had failed to adequately prioritise its financial resources and Waverley’s infrastructure was left in a poor state.
“[In terms of rates], Waverley is one of the lowest rating councils. During Labor’s 20-odd years of control, the operational budget went from $35 million to $110 million,” she said.
“Rather than [allocating it] to a sinking fund, Labor increased the [provision of] services, but they [also] reduced expenditure on infrastructure spending.”
Ms Betts said the rate rise helped address the provision of adequate infrastructure, while the rate base stayed low in comparison to other municipalities due to the enforcement of rate capping.
“Part of the need for the rate rise is that our infrastructure is ageing and needs replacing. Our rates cover about 40 per cent of our expenditure; the rest of our money comes from fees, charges and parking fines,” she said.
Greens Councillor Dominic Wy Kanak said Waverley Council was in a financially sound position and raised concerns over the impact that “unwanted amalgamation” may have on local democracy.
“NSW State Government Treasury Corp has recently rated Waverley Council as having … an acceptable capacity to meet financial obligations in the long term,” he said.
“Delivery of services needs to be tailored through Council’s experience in looking after Waverley’s municipal needs … [a process] best understood by a smaller local council rather than a larger amalgamated council.
“Residents would also lose the present ratio of direct access to their councillors, representing far greater constituent numbers over a greater geographic area.”
Both Mr Wy Kanak and Ms Betts agreed any talks over amalgamation must include a strengthened local democracy, with the Mayor encouraging a greater collaboration with other eastern suburbs councils.
The NSW State Government will hold a community summit next month to discuss the draft Sydney Metropolitan Strategy.