Proposed amalgamation of Bathurst Regional and Oberon councils
Bathurst Regional and Oberon councils were both found by IPART to be financially strong and sustainable as stand-alone councils, but failed the the government’s arbitrary and ill-defined criteria of “scale and capacity.” Both councils have received strong support from their community to remain stand-alone.
The government claims a forced amalgamation would see a total financial benefit of $31 million over a 20 year period. This includes a $15 million grant from the NSW government, which artificially inflates the so-called benefit and is paid for by the taxpayer. The ‘saving’ component is $16 million would be mainly achieved through job cuts to council staff.
The government has chosen to release only selected extracts and a high level summary from the study undertaken by its consultants, KPMG to support these alleged savings. It is impossible for the community to make a full submission on the government's financial case for amalgamation without having access to the complete study for each and every council. What is apparent from the publicly information about the KPMG study is that it:
+ inflates any potential savings from future contracting arrangements in amalgamated councils, especially given the councils already enter into many contracts through Regional Organisation of Council contract tenders when there are identifiable economies of scale from doing so
+ assumes large staff losses in the merged council that will inevitably impact on local services an the local economy
+ grossly underestimates the likely costs to councils from renewing each council's IT infrastructure following the merger
+ fails to consider the very real costs the council and local community will incur with a less responsive and larger council that has less intimate knowledge of local needs
+ ignores the large loss of council staff time and resources in implementing an unwelcome and often unsupported amalgamated council, and
+ has no regard to the informed academic opinions based on detailed empirical studies of past council mergers that proves forced amalgamations typically fail to generate financial sustainability for local councils.
As in much of regional and rural NSW, keeping councils and council jobs can mean the difference between keeping libraries, waste management, road safety and other essential services in local communities.
Oberon has a proud history of having an independent council, supported by its local community, with a clear focus on promoting the economic, social and environmental welfare of the local area. Due to the disparity in size between the two council areas if the merger proceeds it is inevitable that any future decisions about Oberon will be made by a council that is overwhelming comprised of councilors elected from the Bathurst area.
The proposed merger would increase the ratio of residents to elected councillors to 5,223 residents per councillor, up from 4,631 in Bathurst and 666 in Oberon.
More Detailed Financial Material Relevant To Each Council
There are some significant variations between the figures outlined in the Government's proposal and the correct figures as reported in the councils' financial statements.
Bathurst: According to the government’s merger proposal, the operating revenue in 2013/14 was $68.4 million. The actual result was $86 million in FY 2012/13 and $91.7 million in FY 2013/14. According to the proposal, the operating result in 2013/14 was $9.2 million. The actual result was $9.8 million in FY 2012/13 and $13.9 million in FY 2013/14. According to the proposal, the asset base in 2013/14 was $736 million. The actual asset base was $1 billion in FY 2012/13 and FY 2013/14. The proposal states that the infrastructure backlog was 10% in 2013/14, whereas the council’s IPART submission discloses 5%.
Oberon: According to the government’s merger proposal, the operating revenue in 2013/14 was $11.2 million. The actual result was $15.5 million in FY 2012/13 and $15.1 million in FY 2013/14. According to the proposal, the operating result in 2013/14 was $1.4 million. The actual result was $2.6 million in FY 2012/13 and $1.3 million in FY 2013/14. According to the proposal, the asset base in 2013/14 was $122.7 million. The actual asset base was $186.3 million in FY 2012/13 and $187.7 million FY 2013/14. The proposal states that the infrastructure backlog was 12% in 2013/14, which aligns with the council’s IPART submission.