Residents set to count cost

City of Canning chief executive Lyn Russell.
City of Canning chief executive Lyn Russell.

WA councils were sent scrambling to come up with merger proposals by October 4 after the State Government announced its plan to cut 30 metropolitan councils to 14 by July 2015.

Ms Russell was chief executive of the Cairns Regional Council when the then state government forced Queensland council amalgamations in 2008.

She had worked as a general manager and chief executive at city councils for 10 years.

WA Premier Colin Barnett said council mergers would save money, create greater efficiency to deal with the problems of a growing city and address the unbalanced level of amenities in local government areas.

But Ms Russell believed the opposite would occur.

‘There has never been any evidence that local government amalgamations result in any cost savings ” extra costs associated with local government reform are always passed on to ratepayers,’ she said. ‘The cost of the amalgamation process is high.

‘There are costs associated with the integration of computer systems, for instance, which can cost millions of dollars alone.

‘High staff turnover has a significant cost for replacement staff and remaining staff may require retraining and redeployment.’

Ms Russell said ratepayers would have less representation at the local level and services would be disrupted.

‘There will be more residents per councillor with each councillor representing more than twice as many people,’ she said.

‘During the reform process, there is usually a reduction in the high levels of service people have come to expect from their local government as new structures and processes are put in place.’

Mr Barnett said the only thing up for negotiation would be minor adjustments to the proposed new borders.

The City of Canning was in negotiations with neighbouring councils to reduce the economic impact of boundary changes.

The City will lose a significant amount of revenue from commercial rates under the proposed merger, with its high revenue earner, Welshpool industrial estate, split between three councils.

‘We are currently researching and reviewing the proposed options, and looking at the implications of losing part of the our industrial area,’ Ms Russell said.

‘We are undertaking detailed financial modelling to get a full picture of the implications of the loss of the Welshpool industrial area.

‘Whatever the outcome, we are committed to continuing to provide high quality services to our community and to work in partnership with neighbouring councils. The community who use facilities need some certainty as to what will happen to services they currently use.’