A motion for the preparation of a business case for the demerger of Hilltops Council was defeated at the last meeting of Hilltops Council. Councillor Brian Ingram moved the motion which was seconded by Councillor Tony Flanery saying he was "bringing the motion to Council as a result of the community talking to him in droves".
He went on to say by putting the motion he didn't want to be negative to any staff or anyone involved, adding he had worked "as hard as anyone in the last five or so years to see if we can make this merger work and this (motion) is a very small step in a long journey, a journey I believe we should start for this community who are entitled to have a say."
"It hurts me to say the merger has failed, it has failed on every level, not one of the supposed benefits or outcomes we were told about the mergers has occurred.
"The words they used were scale and capacity, we might have some scale but we surely haven't got any capacity.
"Not one thing has improved since the 12th May 2016, but any number of things have gone pear shaped.
"Financially we're crippled, our levels of service are dramatically down on what they were and don't look like improving just going on some recent events in conversations I had earlier, customer service doesn't exist it did take us five years to get a policy up but that's about where that's at and again Councillors I'm not directing this at any group of staff at all.
"This problem with this merger put in very simple words in my terminology the job is too big for the staff, I feel for the staff. The job is too big, so normally what would you do, you'd employ more people but our Council can't employ more people because we haven't got any money.
"We've got nowhere to go, its very unfortunate, so I think we owe it to our community to at least have a business case prepared to the Boundaries Commission just to see where it went wrong, how its going wrong, there could be some benefits come out of it.
"The process of demerger as every other merged Council has found along the way that have also failed, is long. You need a business case to go to the Boundaries Commission, the Boundaries Commission then to send it to the Minister, you need the Minister to take it on board. So it doesn't happen overnight and at the current time and with the current state government in place they haven't had any luck.
"But there is a very strong feeling that in March 2023 there will be a different state government who may have a very different outlook on demerger. I listened to the communities in the leadup to the last election and the small communities still resent Hilltops Council.
"There's no getting out of sight, the long-term financial plan talks about more deficits, we all know the deficits we've had earlier and in a meeting we'll have later in the month about the budget and talking about the budget deficit in the General Fund coming down, well that's not quite right.
"If you off the million dollars that we took off the depreciation number on one side and take off the million dollars of the Advanced Federal Assistance Grant that we got, that will blow that out to 9.5 million dollars. Ithink that's more than the General Fund. You need to look at the General Fund you can't touch the other funds the water and sewer so the outlook isn't very good.
"So we talk about SRV's now, Special Rate Variations, what that will means is that in five years time we'll could all be paying 60 percent more in our rates. In the old days Special Rate Variations were for a purpose, I want to build X over there and I have to ask the community for more rate money for that purpose and that's what Special Rate Variations were. Now the Special Rate Variation we a talking about with all this will be to try and just keep us treading water, status quo. It won't be to improve anything, if we're lucky we might remain at status quo, so that's where it comes to me and really comes home, its very hard. There's been talks about demerger from day one.
"Its not emotional and its not because I don't want to merge. I sat here on Council for the best part of six years and have been supportive every step of the way in the face of everything and stayed on board to try and make it work. It has failed conclusively and it is proven to me with the financials, with the work not being able to be done because we have no staff, can't get staff, we have no money, its not going to work.
"I believe for the sake of our community we need to prepare a case for the demerger and see where it goes from there."
Cr Ingram suggested money to fund the business case should come from deferred capital Footpath Funds 2022/23.
Council resolved to move into Committee of the Whole to allow debate on the Motion without speaking for or against it.
Cr Flanery spoke favorably of the Motion saying that there are now lower service levels as a result of Amalgamation and that the "nuts and bolts" of the staff had fallen out.
Cr FitzGerald acknowledged there are issues within Council but that he wasn't convinced they were related to amalgamation.
Cr Foreman said she felt it would be a "huge step back after six years to demerge." She reflected on the "immense time and effort" that has gone into restructure and urged Councillors to "work together and progress forward," citing the fact Council is well into its six point plan and already working on point four.
Cr Hewson described the move to demerge as "tilting at windmills", "a waste of effort" as all cases to demerge from the last round of amalgamations have been refused by state government.
Cr Piper made the observation that Boorowa would not be in a position to support themselves if a demerger were to take place.
Both Crs Dodd and Mackay publicly endorsed the ability of the General Manager to lead the Council especially in relation to financial matters whilst Cr Dodd said it is not possible to live in the past and not all issues in Council are as a result of the merger.
Cr Mackay said she has "great faith in what we can do as an amalgamated Council" and that Hilltops has a "great future".
In support of the motion Cr Armstrong spoke of the 10 year financial plan which shows forecast deficits that accumulate to the value of $74m. He said "Hilltops combined is in a far more precarious financial in terms of sustainabilty" than would have been the case if the three former entities (Boorowa, Harden and Young Local Government areas) still existed.
He added service levels have changed, "they've dropped. If we think this has been a success we are delusional".
At the conclusion of debate Mayor Roles made the observation she had been a resident of both the former Young and Harden Local Government areas and had noticed no change to her lifestyle as a result of amalgamation. She praised the work of Hilltops Council staff describing much of it as "exceptional".
In moving out of Committee of the Whole Councillors voted on the motion for preparation of a business case for the demerger of Hilltops Council. Councillors, Armstrong, Flanery and Ingram voted for the motion, whilst Councillors Dodd, FitzGerald, Foreman, Hewson, Mackay, Piper and Roles voted against.
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