Ku-ring-gai Mayor Jennifer Anderson shares her thoughts on Council amalgamation.

Cr Jennifer Anderson-1The state government’s Fit for the Future reforms are arguably the biggest shake-up of NSW local government since 1993, when councils were corporatised by the Local Government Act. Fit for the Future asks councils to reflect genuinely on whether they can serve growing populations in the future, with ‘scale and capacity’ as a key benchmark, plus a range of financial indicators.

Broadly speaking, scale and capacity are the ability to govern effectively with a strong voice for the community. Councils are expected to provide a wide range of services and infrastructure to match population growth, while demonstrating sound finances, innovation and a strategic outlook. If councils cannot meet these benchmarks, they must consider merging with one or more councils.

Our Council firmly believes we can demonstrate scale and capacity and meet all the required benchmarks to stand alone, without merging with Hornsby Shire Council.
Last year Ku-ring-gai Council won the Bluett Award – the highest award for local government in NSW. Ku-ring-gai has also been assessed by the NSW Treasury Corporation as being one of the 16 financially strongest councils in NSW out of 152. By any objective measure, we are one of the best performers in the state.
Our current population of 120 000 is projected to grow to 147 000 by 2031, nearing the size of some of the larger councils not required to merge under Fit for the Future.

Over the next five years we will spend $123 million renewing infrastructure such as roads, footpaths and drainage. We have prepared a financial plan ensuring Ku-ring-gai ticks all the government’s boxes for financial sustainability. One of the tough decisions we have taken is to postpone the relocation of our administration centre to 828 Pacific Highway Gordon. This community asset, which the Council fully owns after buying out the lease, represents a prime investment in the Gordon town centre. The $24 million saved by leasing out this building will now be put towards essential infrastructure.

For our ratepayers, there are two compelling arguments against merging with Hornsby. One is the lack of connectedness between our communities. The Shire is very different, with a large proportion of rural and riverside land. A merged council running from Roseville to Wisemans Ferry means decisions about development in Ku-ring-gai would be made at a distance, not helped by a reduction in local councillors representing Ku-ring-gai’s interests.

The second argument is financial – our modelling has found that Ku-ring-gai ratepayers could feasibly pay up to 35% more in rates due to our higher land values. There is also the unresolved issue of Hornsby’s disused quarry, which latest estimates put at $50 million to remediate.

That is our view – now we need yours. You have until Friday 12 June to say whether you think Ku-ring-gai Council should stand alone or merge with Hornsby. You can complete a survey at kmc.nsw.gov.au/fitforthefuture or at our customer service centre and libraries. You can also come to a community meeting at the Council Chambers, 818 Pacific Highway Gordon on Wednesday 3 June from 6.30pm. There has never been a more important time for councils in our area and we need to hear your opinions.