No consultation – The Border Watch
NO consultation was undertaken by the state government with local council representatives ahead of the merger plebiscite this week.
On Monday, Premier Peter Malinauskas announced that a plebiscite would be held in the upcoming council elections, allowing residents of the two council areas, Mount Gambier City Council and Grant District Council, to decide whether the merger was worth studying.
In a statement, the government said the issue had long been debated in the area and residents of nearby Grant were relying on the services of Mount Gambier Council.
The announcement came as a surprise to many people in the area, including staff and council representatives.
Grant Council chief executive Darryl Whicker confirmed that no consultation took place between the state government and the council prior to the announcement.
“The plebiscite to determine the level of community support for a possible merger between Grant District Council and the Town of Mount Gambier is a proposal entirely by the state government,” Mr Whicker said.
“The Council was not consulted by the state government before the announcement regarding the plebiscite was made public, via the media, on Monday evening; however, we will work constructively to ensure the best possible process takes place.
Mr Whicker said it will be the council’s priority to support fair and equal representation on the issue going forward.
“We encourage all eligible residents and businesses to speak up, including on the merger proposal, and return their ballots to the SA Election Commission,” he said.
“The Council will provide further details to our community as new information comes to light.”
Outgoing Grant Council mayor Richard Sage said he was disappointed with the lack of consultation ahead of the announcement.
“Coming to our area and apologizing for ‘selling our pines’ just two months ago and now without even contacting Grant District Council and pushing for amalgamation by using us as a guinea pig for a pilot project to to dominate and achieve what they want is another big mistake,” Sage said.
“This council, like many other small councils in this state, is financially strong and provides excellent service to its ratepayers every day.
“Maybe you need to spend some time with us and learn at the local level what local government means to their local communities and through cooperation you will get better value through a partnership approach rather than to the dictatorship.
“We don’t want to be responsible for the debt the town of Mount Gambier has incurred.”
Current Grant councilor and mayoral candidate Kylie Boston said the news came to her from left field and she hasn’t seen strong interest in the merger within the community since she was member of the board.
“We have to monitor this space, because we don’t really know what it really is,” Ms Boston said.
“We are very different as a rural council from the needs of a town council…we are so many small communities that make up Grant District Council and that’s unusual because it’s not just a few big towns.”
Ms Boston does not recall any discussion of the merger at any of her meetings during the Parliament Cabinet visit earlier this year, or any other occasion she met with government officials from the United States. ‘State.
The announcement came on the eve of interim mode and the closing of nominations for council candidates, and Ms Boston said she would have appreciated an earlier warning from the state government so he could be included in its platform.
“I had to write my candidacy statement before I knew that, I would have included something about it if I had known,” she said.
“Perhaps some community members would have come forward for the board if we had found out sooner.”
Local MP Troy Bell said he would leave the decision in the hands of voters, but would not support a forced merger.
“Ultimately, it’s up to our community to decide if it’s good for our area and the ballot question simply asks if ratepayers think a merger investigation has merit,” Bell said. .
“Even if the poll shows a majority of ratepayers support the investigation, there are two other important steps before any formal merger can move forward.
“The State Productivity Commission and the Local Government Boundaries Commission should independently assess the two councils and conduct extensive community consultation after a vote.
“I do not support forced mergers, but I do support growth, development and opportunity for our region.
A Mount Gambier City Council representative said the council would “engage constructively” throughout the process.
“The town of Mount Gambier is of the view that the plebiscite is only the first step,” said a council representative.
“If voters are in favor of exploring mergers, we understand that the government intends for the Local Government Boundaries Commission to enter into community consultation.
“At the same time, South Africa’s Productivity Commission would assess the economic benefits of the merged board. The Board awaits further information on the processes to be followed throughout the voting process.
While the plebiscite was successful in determining interest in the idea, no timeline has been set for how long the investigation or eventual merger will last, or whether other councils in the area will be considered for merger at the future.