Ward promises to fight the merger

Gareth Ward takes a picture of the protest meeting to send to Premier Mike Baird

Gareth Ward takes a picture of the protest meeting to send to Premier Mike Baird

Kiama MP Gareth Ward said the message that the Kiama community was opposed to amalgamation was received loud and clear at Tuesday night’s meeting.

He said he understood the community’s disappointment and that he himself had been shocked by the proposal handed down by his own government before Christmas.

“I have always said that Kiama Council can stand alone,” Mr Ward said.

“That was the position of the Samson review and the IPART review, neither of which recommended Kiama merge with Shoalhaven City Council.

“This had never been mooted prior to cabinet presenting this recommendation.

“Kiama and the Shoalhaven are beautiful, but different places … Kiama does not have a lot in common with a council that runs down the coast to just north of Batemans Bay.

“I will be making a submission to the Delegate and I am asking the community to send me their views which will be attached to the submission.”

Mr Ward said it was his understanding that where amalgamations are proposed by the Government, they are obliged to conduct a poll of the community.

Mr Ward said he was “not anti-amalgamation’“.

“I am not against amalgamations per se, but there needs to be a business case and reasoned and rational arguments and I can’t see that here in Kiama.

“I am not against considering expanding the Kiama Council boundaries but at this point there is not an alternative proposition on the table.

“I think that Kiama Council can meet the Fit for the Future criteria, in many respects the new Blue Haven site will provide a steady stream of income

“I think right now Kiama is a victim of a snapshot in time, rather than a longer term view of the council’s financial viability.”

Mr Ward called on Shoalhaven City Council, which was yet to take a position on the NSW Government proposal, to make its opposition to the merger clear.

Shoalhaven Mayor Joanna Gash, who represented the Kiama area for 17 years in her role as the Federal
Member for Gilmore, told The Bugle that she would not be taking a position on the proposed merger until more information was provided and feedback from the community received.

Shoalhaven Council was assessed by IPART as ‘fit for the future’ both in scale and capacity and financial sustainability, but this was on the basis that the council would raise its general rates through a two-year special rate variation of 21 per cent from 2017/18.

Cr Gash said with the State Government proposing to freeze the rates of a merged council for the first four years, early estimates suggest Shoalhaven City Council could be up to $11 million worse off annually.

“From a Shoalhaven perspective we are concerned that we will lose funding,” Cr Gash said.

“We have gone through a process with staff cuts that the council is now running on the smell of an oily rag.

“We want to hear from our community. Our community has not been as vocal as Kiama’s as most of the area is still in holiday mode and people away are away, but we will make a submission to the delegate by Feb 28.

“This is a challenging time and we just have to wait and see what the outcome is.”

However the current Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis,a former Kiama councillor, and business owner in both areas, said Kiama and Shoalhaven were two quite different communities.

“It beggars belief why Shoalhaven, Kiama and Shellharbour for that matter have been proposed for amalgamation … it seems unnecessary and unpopular.”


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