LGNSW president Keith Rhoades says the government never properly explained the submission process for councils.
LGNSW president Keith Rhoades says the government never properly explained the submission process for councils. Coffs Coast Advocate

Councils ready to take legal action over forced mergers

IT HAS been criticised as vague and poorly explained, but Premier Mike Baird says the "scale and capacity" measure used to doom so many NSW councils is vital to their future.

The criteria were Kyogle and Bellingen shire councils' downfall in the IPART review of all local governments in the state.

Other North Coast councils such as Clarence Valley, Kempsey and Tweed failed the test for being financially unsustainable - although Tweed claims its poor rating was the result of outdated figures that would be fixed before the month's end.

Local governments are already flagging plans to launch legal action against the government over the review.

North Sydney Council resolved last month to fight any move to force it into a merger.

It has since been found unfit to go it alone.

Now Narrandera's mayor has called on councils in the surrounding Riverina region to join forces to take the government to court if amalgamations are forced.

A quick look at the IPART website shows it was not a one size fits all solution, but rather pitted each council's population, budget and area in the context of what services could be more efficiently shared with neighbours.

The councils were each told the preferred option before submitting their applications.

But LGNSW president Keith Rhoades said the government never properly explained how each option was chosen.

"Councils were completely in the dark before making their submissions," he said.

Mr Baird stuck to the "bigger is better" mantra when facing a barrage of questions surrounding the proposed mergers in parliament.

"It is important to understand that a massive opportunity is being lost by communities if councils remain small," he said.

"Greater scale and capacity mean more opportunities through the removal of duplication, a critical issue, which in the long term frees up savings that can be put back into the community through better services, more infrastructure, lower rates or a combination of all three.

"Shared services were looked at but the problem was the benefits are small compared to the much greater benefits available if the merger option is pursued."

Mr Baird said parks, senior citizen centres and libraries would not suffer under the super councils.

"Under our proposals potentially there will be more of them and that is what we are standing up for," he said.

Councils have until November 18 to respond to IPART's report and to volunteer for mergers.