VOTE 1 ALBURY: Corowa mayor says merger choice is clear

Corowa mayor Fred Longmire would rather his council merge with Albury than Urana.
Corowa mayor Fred Longmire would rather his council merge with Albury than Urana.

COROWA Shire Council has flagged its desire to merge with Albury if amalgamations are forced under a NSW local government shake-up.

Mayor Fred Longmire yesterday said his council’s position hadn’t changed, despite the release of a report recommending Corowa merge with Urana.

Greater Hume mayor Heather Wilton has rubbished a recommended partial merger with Albury, describing the proposal as “ridiculous”, and suggested there were other councils they too would prefer to bargain with.

Cr Wilton said Greater Hume’s preference was to move as a whole, rather than be “gutted” down the middle.

The mayors’ comments came in response to the 138-page Independent Local Government Review Panel final report released this week, which also proposed the merging of Berrigan council with Jerilderie, Wagga with Lockhart, and Deniliquin with Conargo or Murray.

While the reforms won’t be forced, the panel has suggested “voluntary mergers” to cut down NSW’s 152 councils and make local government more sustainable.

Inaction was not an option, the panel said.

Urana is one of nine councils with a population less than 4000, low financial ratings and a dependence on government grants which could readily be merged with a healthier neighbour such as Corowa.

Cr Longmire said while the council would “certainly at some stage talk with Urana”, it had always leaned toward Albury as a partner.

“We have worked in partnership with them and been very successful,” he said.

“As a regional organisation, Albury would be our choice at this point in time.”

An earlier proposal had Corowa merging with Urana, Berrigan and Jerilderie, which Cr Longmire “didn’t support at all”.

Cr Longmire said Urana’s main population was a lot closer to Narrandera, but a divide at Billabong Creek could be possible as those in the southern half would be more likely to travel to Corowa for shopping and community services and events.

Urana mayor Pat Bourke rejected the methods used for calculating the shire’s values, saying it didn’t adequately take into account its small population while being one of the largest land areas.

“There were some comments that taxpayer dollars are propping up smaller councils, when probably they’ve got most of the gross national product coming out of these areas,” he said.

“It’s definitely a ploy to reduce the number of councils — we want financial evidence that we’d be better off, but that’s not there.”

Cr Bourke and Cr Longmire both said they were open to meeting each other and their neighbouring councils on the proposals, but the NSW government needed to show how councils would benefit.

Meanwhile, Cr Wilton said a recommendation for Greater Hume to partially merge with Albury would “gut the whole shire”.

“I think there are other opportunities to explore with our neighbours, different ways of achieving similar outcomes,” she said.

Cr Wilton confirmed the possibility of Greater Hume merging with other areas but would not state which ones.

Greater Hume borders Wagga and Lockhart to the north and Tumbarumba to the east.

Albury mayor Kevin Mack told The Border Mail on Wednesday his council was reserving judgment as it was “premature to comment”.

Berrigan mayor Bernard Curtin said the recommendation to merge with Jerilderie was not surprising.

“We need to sit down now and see if this is advantageous to our people and Jerilderie as well,” he said.

“As far as Berrigan is concerned we are managing our situation quite well, but our door is open for discussion.”

He echoed his counterparts’ sentiments that the March 7 deadline for submissions was too short, especially as most councils would not meet again until February.