The NSW government seems intent on sending councils broke "so they can achieve the numbers they wanted to cut councils by before", Cootamundra-Gundagai mayor Abb McAlister said at the council's last meeting.
"Honestly, you'd think that's what they're doing," Councillor McAlister said, despairing over a government proposal to force councils to set up an expensive new auditing framework.
The council resolved to write to the State member for Cootamundra, Steph Cooke, and to the Local Government Association of NSW, to inform them that the proposed new framework is far too complex and expensive for small rural councils.
"They put on a 2.6% rate cap, then introduce new charges for emergency levies, electoral costs and now this - you've probably got a 4-5% increase in costs," Cr McAlister said.
Cr David Graham said the minimum cost of the government's new "risk management and internal audit framework" would be $172,000.
"In the last 12 months we've had a huge catch up with many things, and it cost us $30,000," he said.
"So what they're proposing will cost at least $142,000 more than we need to spend.
"Where is this fair to the ratepayers?
"Can someone explain it to me? I just don't get it!"
In September last year, the NSW minister for local government, Shelley Hancock, circulated councils with a discussion paper outlining the proposal for local councils in NSW.
Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council joined forces with six other councils in the "Riverina Joint Organisation" to prepare a response to the discussion paper.
The response was highly critical of the proposed framework, saying the logical outcome would be a reduction in resourcing of front-line services.
"There is a danger that focusing inward on the examination of council processes will be at the cost of on-ground services that residents genuinely value, the Riverina JO said.
"At a time when there is a lot of focus on stripping away 'red tape' to improve efficiency, the complexity, reporting, paperwork, staffing and administration required to deliver the proposed framework cannot possibly result in the minister's stated goal of more efficient, effective or economic delivery of a council's strategic objectives.
The Joint Organisation (JO) consists of the Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council as well as the shire councils of Bland, Coolamon, Greater Hume, Junee, Lockhart and Temora, and the Goldenfields and Riverina water county councils.
In its response the JO was critical of the proposal to appoint a highly-paid Chief Audit Executive (CAE).
"Having another senior staff member, the CAE, running around the council requesting information from stretched staff on activities that have already been reported to their senior managers (who have then included the information in reports to councillors) is a duplication of oversight that will bring very little in the way of a return to council," it said.
Cr McAlister said the council welcomed the fact that the government had not gone ahead last year with an unexpected additional $96,000 levy for compensation for firefighters diagnosed with work-related cancers.
However this would be charged in 2020 and councils were still facing the possibility of having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars more to conduct the next local government elections due in September. Cr Graham said the government had emphasised cost cutting in the lead-up to the merger, but all he had seen was more and more cost burdens imposed on the council by the government.
"How can we go forward trying to get things done in our local community if these costs just keep getting passed on to us?" he asked.
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