The debate has started in earnest: Should Manly, Warringah and Pittwater merge into one Northern Beaches Council?
Size matters. That's the message from the State Government which is pushing for councils across NSW to merge into bigger, "stronger" groupings. The government report on the matter, from the Independent Local Government Review Panel, has recommended huge cuts to the number of councils operating in Sydney and across the state. Instead of the existing 41 Sydney councils, the reports says we should have less than 20.
And instead of our current three Northern Beaches councils Manly, Warringah and Pittwater the report says we should have just one.
But it's not that easy. While Warringah Council supports the amalgamation scheme, both Manly and Pittwater are opposed.
What Does Future Hold for Manly Council?
The first preference for Manly and Pittwater councils is to stay as they are. But if that's not possible, the two councils want to split Warringah and take half each, something Warringah Mayor Michael Regan describes as "laughable". Cr Regan says Warringah Council is the best performing council in the Northern Beaches region, so it should be the last one on the chopping block.
It's also the heavyweight of the group, with a population of 140,000, compared with 40,000 in Manly and 57,000 in Pittwater.
However a division of Warringah, using Warringah Rd as the boundary, would mean local council areas would be more in line with State and Federal government electoral divisions. And should an area the size of the Northern Beaches, which supports two Federal Government and two State Government seats, have only one local government body?
Supporters of Manly Council's bid to remain independent, also point to the 8 million tourists that visit Manly every year, massively boosting our nominal 40,000 population.
Current Financial Position Strong
As well, Manly's financial situation is strong. An independent audit of Manly's finances, presented to Council this week (10/11/14) gave the council a clean bill of health. The report from accounting firm Hill Rogers Spencer Steer said Council's books and records were well kept and up to date. It had an operating surplus of $4.6 million, and has good liquidity with available working capital of $1 million and $2.75 available for every $1 of debt.
Manly Mayor Jean Hay said only 32, out of the 152 councils in NSW, were endorsed as financially sustainable, and Manly was one of those. "Small councils can be just as strong financially as big councils," Cr Hay said.
And while the State Government has so far ruled out forced amalgamation, it is ramping up the pressure. Each council has until the end of June next year, to come up with a plan for "future cooperation with neighbouring councils". If not, they risk losing access to subsidised loans and government grants.
Would bigger councils mean more efficient government and greater political clout? Or less access to local representation and a weaker sense of local identity? What do you think?
Candy Bingham, Deputy Mayor, Northern Beaches Council. Background in marketing, public relations & community engagement. Author of five business books. Former Lady Mayoress of Sydney. Aka Candy Tymson.