Mayors revolt on merge cost

REBEL mayors Brad Pettitt and Logan Howlett warn council mergers are doomed unless the Barnett government stumps up the cash to pay for them.

Both Fremantle and Cockburn will walk and simply refuse to participate further unless the government retreats from its statement this week that councils will be expected to pay the lion’s share of the costs.

They say if councils are made to pay, rates could jump 10 to 15 per cent.

The Barnett government has allocated just $15 million of its own money towards the process of reducing the number of metro councils from 30 to 15—a process initiated by premier Colin Barnett.

Mayors are ropeable at the prospect of being made to pay for a process many never wanted in the first place.

Without more WA government cash, councils could be up for anything between $45m and $100m.

Fremantle and Cockburn are up for $5m apiece on current projections and Melville would be in the same ballpark, or higher.

Low-interest loans have been suggested as one way to raise money but the local mayors want WA local government minister Tony Simpson to put the screws on Treasury.

“It’s for him to go back to Treasury and get more money,” Brad Pettitt told the Herald.

“He needs our cooperation as councils, he can’t simply handball the cost on us.

“We will walk away if the money is not in the budget. The whole process will fall over.”

Mr Howlett says ratepayers will not foot the bill: “The entire process has been flawed from the beginning. It has been botched.”

He says Cockburn is holding up the passage of its Budget until the minister replies.

Dr Pettitt says it is crunch time for the WA government: “I’m surprised they have allowed this to happen,” he says.

Melville mayor Russell Aubrey says “at this stage anything can happen” but it’s too early to make premature estimates of costs.

“Until we are able to understand the extent of changes that reform will bring for the city, there is no point in making estimates based on ideas of what may or may not be.

“The minister has stated it would be difficult to provide funding until decisions are passed down in July or August. We will wait to see what his response will be to WA local government association’s request for additional funding.”

WALGA has compared the Barnett government’s funding to that of Queensland when it initiated its own unpopular council reform, to which it contributed $51m—a quarter of the actual cost of local government mergers.
WALGA president Troy Pickard says the “meagre” $5m to be spent by the WA government this year would not fund even one merger.


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