Could the amalgamation of Wollongong and Shellharbour Councils be a good thing for the Northern Illawarra?
Heathcote MP Lee Evans thinks so.
Mr Evans says for years, the northern suburbs have been neglected by Wollongong Council, but is hopeful that under a new Illawarra Council, the money will be better spread across the region.
“The coverage area will be larger and the council will have more money, so everyone should be better off. It could no longer be a case of favouring the Wollongong CBD,” he says.
“Right now, Sutherland Council has around 230,000 ratepayers. They have one Mayor, one General Manger, one council chambers and one admin team.
“Shellharbour currently has around 70,000 ratepayers and Wollongong between 80 and 90 thousand. And there are two Mayors, two general manager, two sets of expensive admin staff and two sets of infrastructure. The maths just doesn’t stack up.
Lee says the costs involved in running the actual council are enormous, before you even get to the costs of running the city.
“The bulk of rate revenue is being used to pay staff and admin costs, with the State Government top-ups then used to run the city.
“General managers are well paid, then there is the team of professionals who work to administer the city. There are company cars and the costs of running the council chambers. The way the numbers stack up, we are actually paying double because one council could effectively cover the whole area.
“And those costs are increasing. Wages are going up, but also the costs of basic infrastructure. Two years ago it cost around $100,000 p.a to run a garbage truck. Now it’s closer to $250,000.
“Shellharbour Council has proved it’s not financially viable. They have an incredible growth rate and should be rolling in money, but they are not managing that rate revenue well. This means the State Government is constantly propping-up the council. Our goal is for every council to be self-sustainable. To rely on rate revenue to run the city, and that doesn’t seem possible in Shellharbour.
So keen is the State Government to amalgamate the councils, they’ve offered the new Illawarra Council a $30 million upfront payment to pay out staff and wind up unnecessary infrastructure.
“The councils we have identified are not financially sustainable. It’s in the interests of the Government to hand over the 30 million to this council alone, rather than have to support the running of an unsustainable organisation long-term.”