Councils in the Hume region are joining together for what they have called a first-of-its-kind "transformation" initiative, but one Wangaratta councillor believes it is just a step towards amalgamations.
The Rural Councils Transformation Program would involve the sharing of staff, costs and resources across Wodonga, Wangaratta, Alpine, Indigo, Moira, Towong, Benalla, Mitchell, Strathbogie, Murrindindi and Mansfield councils.
The business plan stated there was "no intended loss of staff" for councils, but some roles may change because of the collaboration, "enabling flexible shared services will facilitate staff who live anywhere in the region to provide services to other councils".
They asked the Victorian government for $5 million over three years in total, including $260,000 for Wangaratta specifically to construct a weigh bridge and sifter as part of its $4 million organics plant - a project unanimously supported by councillors.
It is anticipated other North East councils will also use the facility.
But while the funding application stated the transformation program was necessary to cope with the shrinking cash reserves of councils, Wangaratta's Cr Harvey Benton said it was just another word for amalgamation.
"There's no amalgamation, it's not on the table and I don't think it will be on the table in the short term, but in the medium term I do. There's too many hints coming out," he said at this week's council meeting.
"I am very much patriotic ... but I still am a strong advocate for no amalgamations, particularly forced amalgamations."
He said the business plan was like seeing a ghost, repeating ideas of collaboration he heard as a councillor 20 years ago.
"If they were so right 20 years ago, why are we having this discussion today?" Cr Benton said.
"I hope to God that this thing never ever rises up to be used as ammunition in relation to our identity.
"If we lose our identity, we lose our soul."
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