EXPENDITURE of up to $25,000 to fight the state government’s municipal merger plans was approved at the last meeting of the Central Highlands Council. In contrast to the Derwent Valley Council which has been largely silent on the topic, the Central Highlands Council has been on the front foot, with a public meeting last month and multiple discussions at the most recent council meeting.
The Central Highlands Council was created from the forced amalgamation of the former Hamilton and Bothwell councils 30 years ago. The Derwent Valley Council (then called the New Norfolk Council) was mostly unaffected by the 1993 boundary changes.
In the first of several decisions about its response to the various proposals put forward by the Local Government Board, the council approved a notice of motion from Cr David Meacheam to form a working group. This group of councillors and key staff will work on the council’s responses to the board’s proposals. A decision later in the meeting saw up to $25,000 allocated towards the cost of engaging a consultant to assist with this work due to the short timeframe involved.
Addressing his notice of motion, Cr Meacheam said there was every likelihood that the “no” case would not succeed in the amalgamation proposals but the council could still push its case and talk with its neighbours about accelerating the “shared services model”. Cr Robert Cassidy said he was not opposed to forming a working group but it was every councillor’s duty to put pressure on the state’s politicians to oppose forced amalgamations.
“Our position is that we are satisfied with who we are, who we identify ourselves as right now, as Central Highlands Council,” Cr Cassidy said. “We cherish our history and we cherish our municipality. We don’t want to be amalgamated,” he said. “We saw from the community meeting, nobody in that room wanted amalgamation, nobody wanted any one of those four scenarios (as proposed by the Local Government Board) … and listening to our neighbouring councils they are not interested in merging with us either.”
Deputy mayor Jim Allwright warned that there would be a risk to the ratepayers and residents of the municipality if the council did not “meaningfully engage” in the process and the working group was a way to achieve that. “There is significant risk if we don’t engage in this process, they will just cut us off,” Cr Allwright said.
The meeting also received a recommendation from the Central Highlands Council Audit Panel that the council should adopt a formal position on the Future of Local Government Review. In response, Cr Cassidy moved that the council did not accept amalgamation or any of the four scenarios put forward. This was seconded by Cr John Hall and after a spirited discussion this was carried by a vote of 6-3. Several councillors expressed concern that adopting this position could be seen as refusing to engage with the Local Government Board, which Cr Cassidy said was the wrong interpretation.
Picture: The Central Highlands Council has placed electronic message boards at several locations in the municipality to urge its residents to take part in discussions about proposed mergers. Picture: Robert Cassidy Photography.