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Frequently Asked Questions

Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council FAQs

These are some of the questions we have been asked about the merger of Cootamundra and Gundagai Shire Councils, and about the operation of Gundagai Council. If you have other questions, please get in touch. Our contact details are:

Email:                                      mail@gundagai.nsw.gov.au

Mail:                                        PO Box 420, Cootamundra NSW 2590

Cootamundra Office:                 (02) 6940 2100

Gundagai Office:                       (02) 6944 0200

What Changes should I expect?

It will be business as usual for council, with no major changes expected to services or community facilities in the short term.

All services that were provided by the former councils will continue to be provided.

Rates and other payments can still be made, planning and development application services will continue, and waste collection services remain unchanged.

All facilities of former councils will remain open and we will continue to provide the same community services.

How do I deal with the Council now that it has been merged?

Both the Cootamundra Office and the Gundagai Office will remain open, and all of the staff that you would have dealt with at each office before the merger, are still in place.

How do I pay my rates?

Rates notices will be issued in the name of Gundagai Council, and your payment options have not changed.

Who can I talk to about Council services?

You can talk to the staff in your local office at Cootamundra or Gundagai.

Where is the head office of Gundagai Council and why this location? The former Gundagai Shire Council has a bigger land area, why is Cootamundra the Head Office? Cootamundra has a larger population than Gundagai now, however over time this may change, therefore, why should the head office by in Cootamundra?

Cootamundra has been determined to be the principle office. The Cootamundra offices are larger and additionally the office of the Interim General Manager is already located in Cootamundra.

Will the Cootamundra or Gundagai Offices be closed?

No.

Who decided which councils should merge?

The Minister for Local Government and the Premier of NSW determined the Council mergers.

How was Gundagai Council created and what are its boundaries?

Gundagai Council was proclaimed on Thursday 12 May 2016. The boundaries are the same as the previous Gundagai area and Cootamundra area boundaries. There has been no additional land added.

Who is the General Manager?

Ken Trethewey has been appointed as Interim General Manager. Ken will be responsible for the day-to-day running of Gundagai Council through a period of change, including managing organisational and staffing issues. He will also be responsible for advising the Administrator and implementing her decisions.

The permanent position of General Manager will be formally advertised and recruited following election of the new council in September 2017.

Who is the Administrator?

Christine Ferguson has been appointed as Administrator and legally designated to perform the functions of the governing body of the council under the Local Government Act 1993. This includes the role of the previous mayors and councillors. Christine will oversee the running of Gundagai Council until local council elections are held in September 2017.

Do the former Mayors and Councillors have a role?

Two committees have been made up of former Councillors; these are Local Representation Committees (LRC) and the Implementation Advisory Group (IAG).  All councillors who are committed to the success of the new council have been invited to join these committees and be part of council’s continuing activities.

Where and how can Christine Ferguson be contacted? Where will she be based?

Christine can be contacted by phoning either office. She will have office space in both places.

What will happen if the ex-Gundagai Shire Councillors win their legal action?

The new Gundagai council would be declared void and the two previous council’s would be reconstituted.

Are there two General Managers?

No, there is one council, Gundagai council, Ken Trethewey is the Interim General Manager, and Phil McMurray is the Interim Deputy General Manager.

What are the savings of the new Council?

Savings will be identified as duplications are identified and removed.  All savings will be use to improve existing services.

What are the savings in employee costs?

There are no savings in employee costs.  All award staff positions (139 EFT) are guaranteed and all conditions are guaranteed for three years.

Is there any increase in the General Manager’s wages?

At this stage there is not, but this issue is being negotiated with the assistance of the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

Will the Council name be changed?

The Minister for Local Government has advised that the government will accelerate a new proclamation for the name Cootamundra-Gundagai Council or Gundagai-Cootamundra Council. Ratepayers will make the choice, by voting and returning a slip that Council will post this week.

Gundagai Council signage will be misleading when you’re driving toward Cootamundra. We need an undertaking that community funds won’t be spent on changing the Council signage until the community have had the opportunity to have real input on changing the Council’s name.

All signage will be changed once the issue of the council name has been settled.  This will be done in priority order with the major signage changed quickly and the signs such as street signs and minor signs being done as these are replaced.

Why should the community vote for a change of name, when the last time we voted the Minister ignored us?’

The Minister has assured Christine that if the community indicates a majority position for a name such as Cootamundra-Gundagai or Gundagai-Cootamundra he will ensure the change is made.

Will you publish the results of the vote on the name change?

Yes.

Why was there a discussion about the option for a name that includes “Cootamundra” at the Cootamundra public meeting, but not at the Gundagai public meeting?

At the Gundagai meeting (7/6/15) Christine did not have the assurance from the Minister that he would accept either Cootamundra-Gundagai or Gundagai-Cootamundra, and rather than offer something which could not be delivered the known possibilities were discussed.  At 5.55pm on 9/6/15 the Minister contacted Christine and agreed that either Cootamundra-Gundagai or Gundagai-Cootamundra would be acceptable.  There was no time to include this in the presentation so it was simply verbally relayed to the meeting in Cootamundra.

How many staff are there? How many from each of the former Council areas, indoor and outdoor?

There are 141 EFT staff, 90 from Cootamundra (30 indoor 60 outdoor) and 51 from Gundagai (20 indoor 31 outdoor)

What will the Council representation be after the election, from each of the former Council areas?

There will be nine councillors chosen by the voters from the whole council area. The relative representation will depend on the capacity of the candidates to secure votes.

Are the ex-Councillors still getting paid?

Yes, if they are on the IAG or LRC committees.  No, if they are not.

Why wasn’t Cootamundra’s brand recognition thought of in the choice of the name “Gundagai Council”?

It was but Gundagai was suggested as being more widely known.

Could we call it “Cootamundra Gundagai Regional Council”?

That will be an option on the letter coming out, as will Gundagai-Cootamundra Regional Council, and will be open for people to choose.

Can we spend the grant money on repairing our roads?

The Panel appointed will assess all priority infrastructure, including roads, and will prioritise the expenditure to the areas of greatest need.

Is there $9million for each Council?

No, the $9M is to cover the whole of the single new council area.

How will we reach a consensus for competing priorities between the two former Council areas? As the smaller of the two former Council areas, will Gundagai get a fair share of the grant money?

The Panel will need to consult and determine the priorities on an objective basis.

We will never be happy with this. Why didn’t we end up with Harden?

This is not a question Council can answer.

You can’t drink the water in Thompson Street, what are you going to do about it?

Water issues in Cootamundra will be assessed and prioritised along with all other infrastructure issues by the Panel.

How much are you going to spend on changing the signage?

An initial budget estimate is between $200,000 – $250,000 for a complete change of signage.

Will both former Councils get the same ballot paper for a change of name?

Yes

Is this process the “death of democracy”?

This is not a question Council can answer.

Could the Cootamundra community ask that Ab, David and Peter be put on the committees straight away, regardless of the legal action that they are involved in?

Christine will be meeting with these three former councillors in the next week, however, whilst ever the court case continues it is not tenable for these three to both promote the success of the new council and at the same time try to achieve the elimination of the new council.

Cootamundra had an overwhelming community majority to merge with Harden and we were promised $10 million to volunteer for this. Can you comment?

Both of these comments are correct, however, the ultimate decision of Government to merge Gundagai and Cootamundra is not a question for Council to answer.

The Labour opposition leader has said he will overturn forced mergers if the community asks for it. Can we have a regional name that would suit a different merger option for Cootamundra and Harden, such as “South West Slopes”?

It would be counterproductive to spend time on this suggestion.  Council needs to concentrate its efforts on the success of the council that has been created.

How can we let the Premier know how strongly the communities feel about their stance that Gundagai should have been allowed to standalone and Cootamundra should have been allowed to voluntarily merge with Harden?

This is not a question Council can answer.

How much is the Administrator paid, and how much would the Councillors have cost, by comparison? Where does the Administrator’s pay come from? How does Christine feel about accepting a salary from a Government that ignores the people?

Christine has been asked to fulfil the role of Administrator to ensure the success of the new council.  She was not involved in any way in the creation of the new council and has taken the role with an attitude that the new council exists and needs to be functional to provide the services needed by the community.  As such there is no conflict.

The Administrators rate of payment is $150,000 per annum inclusive of salary and superannuation.  This was set by the Department of Premier and Cabinet and is paid from Council’s ordinary funds. Councillors involved in the IAG and LRC continue to be paid the maximum rural councillor rate equating to approximately $200,000.

Why is Cootamundra paying for the legal costs incurred by Gundagai Shire Council’s decision to fight the amalgamation?

Cootamundra is not paying.  The new Gundagai Council is liable for the legal costs accrued by Gundagai Shire Council up to the time of the new council’s rescission motion on 17 June 2016.

What legislation gave Christine the authority to rescind Gundagai Shire Council’s decision to spend $50,000 of the Council’s Plant Reserve to take the Government to court?

The Local Government Act 1993

What were the debts of the Gundagai Shire Council?

Gundagai Shire has borrowings of approximately $3M allocated to the construction of the Gundagai Main Street.

The 10 year financial plan of Gundagai Shire Council shows the Council will have a surplus. Was Gundagai Shire Council financially “fit”? Which of the two Council’s was tracking better immediately prior to the amalgamation?

A 10 year financial plan is a plan, rather than a reality.  The 10 year plan relies on a variety of assumptions, all of which can vary dramatically over a 10 year period and result in the outcome being dramatically different from the prediction.  These include the inflation rate, the rate peg, wage increases, material costs, etc.

All NSW councils have been assessed in relation to their infrastructure backlogs and sustainability by independent agencies.  The results for Gundagai and Cootamundra were:

 

Gundagai

Cootamundra

Treasury Corporation

(T Corp)

Financial Sustainability: Moderate

Outlook: Negative

Financial Sustainability: Moderate

Outlook: Neutral

Local Government Infrastructure Audit

Infrastructure Management Assessment: Distressed

 

Total Reported bring to satisfactory

standard (BTS) infrastructure assets: $4,238,000

BTS per Capita: $1129.23

Infrastructure Management Assessment: Moderate

 

Total Reported bring to satisfactory

standard (BTS) infrastructure assets: $5,850,000

BTS per Capita: $779.90

 

 

The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) assessed Councils as being “Fit”or “Unfit”, according to a set of Government criteria. Were Gundagai and Cootamundra “Fit”?

Gundagai was declared “Unfit”.  Cootamundra was declared “fit” in a merger with Harden.  The Cootamundra staff assessment of Cootamundra against the same criteria indicated that Cootamundra would be “Unfit” had it been assessed alone.

Can you ask the Minister to tell us why this Council merger was decided? Why were the Councillors sacked? They are competent people.

The Administrator has undertaken to ask the questions of the Minister but cannot guarantee an answer will be forthcoming.

Is the grant funding a permanent grant, or will we have to pay it back?

The funding is a ‘one off’ of $15M and does not need to be repaid.

The Delegate’s Report talked about the closest hospital servicing Cootamundra residents being located in Gundagai. Is there a secret plan to close the Cootamundra hospital?

No.

Will residents who aren’t ratepayers get a vote on the name of the Council?

Council can only send a letter and voting slip to those within its existing data bases, e.g. rates.  Council will make voting slips available at both the Gundagai and Cootamundra offices for those who do not have a regular mode of contact with council.

Will the votes be counted fairly and will all posted votes get back for the count?

Yes.

The RFS is looking at relocating the fire control centre for the South West Slopes Zone. Could you lobby for Cootamundra to be a potential site?

The decision will be taken by RFS following discussions on the future arrangement of the new council within the existing two RFS zones.

What ongoing savings will there be out of this merger?

These will be identified over the next 12-15 months, and according to the KPMG report will amount to approximately $3M over 10 years.

Can we spend some of the grant money to build a new visitors information centre in Cootamundra?

Council will be developing a new Tourism Strategy over the next 12-15 months and all aspects of the present and future tourism infrastructure requirements will be considered.

Why was the Cootamundra public meeting held at the ex-services club and not the Town Hall?

Expediency, and decent heating.

If both the former Councils were gradually going backwards financially, and both Councils have to provide the same services to the same ratepayers spread over the same area, how will the amalgamation fix the problem?

The amalgamation is not a universal panacea and will not solve all of the financial problems of local government.  It will create some savings and some additional capacity for services and slow the decline which has been taking place since the introduction of rate pegging some 40 years ago.

Won’t we need to be amalgamated again in the future?

This is not a question council can answer.

John Turner’s report to the Boundaries Commission didn’t adequately take in to account the community’s views. Can you comment on this?

Council cannot comment on this issue. This is a matter better directed to the Office of Local Government or the Boundaries Commission members.

How did the Administrator have the authority to rescind the Gundagai Shire Council’s motion to take legal action?

The rescission motion was made under the normal provisions of the Local Government Act 1993, in the same way any council reverses a previous motion.  The Administrator has the role of Mayor and councillors during the administration period and is entitled to do anything a council could do under the Act.

Administrators are usually appointed when a Council is corrupt. Why was an Administrator appointed to a well run Councils in this case?

This is a question for the State Government.

All eight of the Gundagai Shire Councillors voted to take legal action against the amalgamation. Why have three Councillors been singled out and excluded from the Gundagai Council Committees?

The three councillors have chosen to continue to oppose the merger and seek to undo the merger and therefore cannot honestly commit to the success of the merger.  once the court case is settled this position of the three councillors may change and if so the three councillors will be invited to be part of the merger process.

Why weren’t the sacked Councillors notified in writing? Why haven’t the former Councillors been properly acknowledged for their years of service?

The removal of councillors was an action of the State government and as such this question cannot be answered by Council.  the matter of recognition of former councillors has been raised by the Administrator with the Minister for Local Government.

Is Christine Ferguson an independent Administrator, or does she act on behalf of the Minister for Local Government?

Under the proclamation Christine acts as the Mayor and councillors, and has the same State restrictions and freedoms as any Mayor or councillor.

Why did the Administrator talk to some but not all former Councillors immediately?

This was a matter of availability of the councillors and available time of the administrator.

Why do we have to wait until September 2017 for the first election?

The State Government has determined this under the Proclamation.

Was the Administrator position advertised, and did Christine Ferguson apply for the position with other applicants?

The position was ‘advertised’ to all former councillors in the sense that they were invited to apply to be an administrator, but not in the wider community.  Christine was approached by the Minister for Local Government the day before the proclamation and asked if she would be willing to take on the position of Administrator.

The community presented their views about the amalgamation proposal to the Minister’s delegate, John Turner at community forums, and these views were not taken in to account. Why not?

This is not a question Council can answer.

Why wasn’t the former Gundagai Shire General Manager appointed to the position of General Manager of the new Council?

All former GMs were invited to apply for the Interim GM role.  Both the Gundagai and Cootamundra GMs applied and went through an assessment and interview process undertaken for the Department of Premier and Cabinet by a large consultancy, resulting the Cootamundra GM being appointed as Interim GM by DPC.  Neither the former councillors nor the Administrator had any role in this appointment.

Will senior staff positions be lost from the Gundagai office?

No.  An interim organisational structure is being developed that ensures that all existing staff capabilities are used to their fullest extent and that the new council continues to provide the full suite of services provided at present.  once finalised with staff this structure will be made public.

Why haven’t Gundagai community members been asked to join committees, to equalise the representation from the two former Council areas?

This has been considered, however, the desire of both the Administrator and Government is that former councillors should take preference for these position.  As such the positions are being held open for the three former Gundagai councillors following the conclusion of their court case.

As an act of good faith, could Gundagai Council continue to fund the entire legal costs for the fight to stop the amalgamation?

Two reasons. Firstly, Council is responsible for the allocation of public moneys in accordance with the Local Government Act 1993 and a set of rules developed by both the Office of Local Government and council.  The funds allocated by Gundagai Shire Council were from the former councils Plant Reserve and should not have been reallocated without a process of public notification.  Secondly, the new council cannot allocate funds to a court case which seeks to abolish the new council.

Isn’t the State Government Grant funding a bribe?

No.  It is money allocated by the State to ensure the success of the new council.

How can people trust the leadership of the Council?

This will be a matter of observing the actions of the leadership and making an informed judgment regarding the continuation of services and operation of the council over time.

We would like it acknowledged that this amalgamation process has been undemocratic.

Council cannot make such a statement, but does acknowledge that neither Gundagai or Cootamundra sought the outcome that was presented to them on 12 May 2016.

What would happen if we end up de-amalgamating as happened in Queensland?

Council cannot answer this question.

Gundagai will always be a minority, how can the community be heard without their own Council?

All nine future councillors will be expected to make decisions in the interest of the whole council.

There was a submission written by ?Tanya Abu Sadar?, who really wrote it?

Council cannot answer this question.

Why didn’t the Local Member write to the former Councillors thanking them for their service?

Council cannot answer this question.