Central Darling Shire to remain under administration until 2024 marking a decade without elected councillors


Posted

October 04, 2019 12:41:07

An outback New South Wales shire the size of Tasmania will spend a decade without elected councillors after a decision to extend its administration period.

Key points:

  • Financial pressure forced the Central Darling Shire into administration in 2014
  • The end of the administration period has been pushed back until 2024 so the shire can develop a long-term plan
  • Locals say having elected representation would have helped the region during the mass fish kills

In 2014, financial pressure forced the Central Darling Shire into administration, which was due to end at the 2020 NSW local government elections.

NSW Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock said that had been pushed back by another four years.

“This is a decision I don’t make lightly,” Ms Hancock said in a statement.

“Following advice from the current administration, the Office of Local Government and Local Government NSW, it was agreed the extension is in the best interests of the community.”

The shire covers the Darling River towns of Wilcannia and Menindee, the latter of which experienced devastating mass fish kills over summer.

Its lobbying of the State Government was credited for achieving immediate and longer-term investment in local waterways and the town itself.

But locals were also unhappy that they had no elected representation during such a major ecological catastrophe.

Shire facing further challenges

The Government said the four-year extension was necessary for the shire to develop a comprehensive long-term plan.

The council’s administrator, Bob Stewart, agreed there was more work to do.

“We’re starting to build some reserves in there for future bulletproofing, if you like, of the organisation, and we don’t hold large reserves at the moment,” Mr Stewart said.

“I’d certainly like to build some further capacity, investment in software systems, et cetera.”

In this financial year, the shire was expecting to receive $20.7 million in revenue, and book a surplus of $400,000.

“There’s been a significant improvement [since 2014] and that’s acknowledged by Government … but we’ve got underlying issues,” Mr Stewart said.

“There’s a massive amount of money that hasn’t been collected in unpaid rates over the years.

“We’ve got issues coming up with water and sewerage plants, that’s new capital works, we then have to deal with the depreciation issues.”

He said remaining viable would be a permanent challenge for the shire, which has the largest area but smallest population of any local government in the state.

Region lacks a ‘strong voice’

Menindee resident and water campaigner Graeme McCrabb praised the performance of the shire’s general manager, Greg Hill, saying he had done a fantastic job in standing up for local communities.

But he said the region would have been better served by an elected body, especially during a time of great concern about the health of the Menindee Lakes and Darling River.

“I think this region’s really lacked a good strong voice,” Mr McCrabb said.

“Those guys that are in paid positions can’t be political, and we definitely need someone that can articulate the issues that we face in the Central Darling Shire at higher levels without fear for their position,” he said.

Mr McCrabb said community members and groups had taken places on representative bodies that a council would ordinarily sit on.

“If you sat down and worked out the time and you looked at the people that put time in, there’s massive amounts of unpaid hours going in,” he said.

“We need that strong voice rather than a lot of separate groups. The micro stuff’s going pretty well … but it’s the bigger picture stuff that I think we’re missing out on.”

Honor Taylor, a White Cliffs resident and former shire councillor, supported the decision to extend administration.

“Those guys that are in there now are doing a fantastic job, and once councillors get in they’ll learn — they can see what they’ve done over [the administration period],” she said.

“They’re setting the standard. People in the shire are watching them,” she said.

Topics:

water,

water-management,

water-supply,

local-government,

regional,

wilcannia-2836,

menindee-2879,

white-cliffs-2836,

ivanhoe-2878



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