BORDER MERGER: Plan was ready to join cities

IF ever the two cities are to become one in the future, the road map is ready.

It dates from 2002 when two very senior State bureaucrats, Prue Digby (Victoria) and Neil Shepherd (NSW) signed off a plan as joint chairpersons.

The Border Mail had revealed on August 21, 2001 that the date pencilled in for the merger was January 1, 2003.

However, it never happened and the two councils have, if anything, grown further apart since then.

First, the Digby-Shepherd report said the new city should be set up with Victorian law applied to both Albury and Wodonga.

They said the governments should not include Hume shire for the time being as a two-city merger would be complex enough.

They recommended three stages of governance, broadly as suggested by Ian Sinclair.

First, the governments would appoint three commissioners to act as an interim council for 18 months, with a new chief executive being assisted by the two chiefs of the old councils (then Mark Henderson and Peter Marshall).

Next, there would be elections for eight councillors — four to be elected from Albury and four from Wodonga.

Thirdly, after three years, a council of nine would be elected from across the combined cities — without any distinction between Albury or Wodonga and no wards.

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Mayors would be elected from among the councillors annually.

Staff in Albury had wanted to be employed under NSW awards but the bureaucrats said the government should discuss employing all staff under a NSW template and there would be no forced redundancies for three years.

It would be up to the interim council to determine what offices to use.

As Wodonga’s water was managed by a state agency (North East Water), Albury’s water services should be hived off as a business unit and a report commissioned about its future, including being sold subject to state approval.

Ms Digby and Mr Shepherd were joined on the working group by then NSW director-general of local government Garry Payne, and a senior Victorian from the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Ken Love, as well as Peter Marshall and Mark Henderson.

Like Mr Sinclair, the working group agreed the most effective way of promoting the Albury-Wodonga region was to merge the councils using existing boundaries.

In 2004, after the one-city merger issue died, the NSW Labor government dissolved the Hume Shire Council and added Splitters Creek, a large part of Thurgoona, the Ettamogah area and Lake Hume Village to the city.

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