UNCERTAINTY about the future of councils still subject to mergers in the Hunter could continue into the next decade, and Paul Toole still won’t talk about it.
Unless the Baird government moves fast to secure outstanding mergers across the state, elections for the new local government areas may be delayed until 2018 or even 2020.
The Office of Local Government has written to councils that have not yet been merged telling them that unless they are amalgamated by the end of this month, elections could not be held until March 2018.
But if the new councils are not created before August 2017, the Office of Local Government said elections could not be held before September 2019 – or, to prevent overlap with the 2019 state election, “it may be preferable to combine these elections with the next ordinary local government elections in September 2020”.
The Office of Local Government's communication is on the advice of the NSW Electoral Commission.
However, to add to the confusing scenario, the Office of Local Government also said on Tuesday that councils still subject to merger proposals “will need to have an election date set” – likely in September next year – if a merger decision is not made by April.
That would seem to suggest the councils would have elections based on their existing boundaries, though neither the Electoral Commisison or the Office of Local Government could confirm that.
And Mr Toole refused to offer any comment on the situation in the Hunter. On Tuesday a spokesman repeated the same line – that he is “considering all the proposals following the receipt of all the Delegate’s reports and comments from the Boundaries Commission” – that his office has been offering for months.
“The NSW Government is keen for elections for new councils to occur as soon as possible,” he said in a statement.
“Elections for new councils already proclaimed will occur in September 2017.
“The Commission is working hard to ensure everything is ready for elections for the 20 new councils next September,” Mr Toole said.
“The Government’s preference for any additional newly-created councils is to also hold elections next September.”
Critics of the Baird Government's council merger agenda seized on the delays as evidence of a chaotic process.
“They say the delay will ‘reduce the potential for voter confusion and additional cost’, but I wouldn't be worrying too much about voter confusion,” the president of Local Government NSW, Keith Rhoades, said on Tuesday.
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