Maitland City Council will begin 2015 considering its future.
A possible merger with Dungog Shire Council will be discussed tonight, at the council’s first meeting of the year, as the city prepares its response to the state government’s Fit for the Future local government reforms.
Maitland council staff have recommended that formal discussions begin with Dungog about a possible merger between the neighbouring local government areas.
The recommendation comes after Dungog general manager Craig Deasey sent a letter to Maitland general manager David Evans on December 19 to ask for formal discussions about a merger to begin as soon as possible.
Mr Deasey wrote that Dungog would request expert assistance, facilitators and financial support from the state government in order to investigate whether a merger with Maitland would be feasible.
A staff report to Maitland councillors noted that while the city did not currently meet the state’s criteria for financial sustainability, the approved seven-year rate rise would mean Maitland would meet the criteria in the coming years.
“Nonetheless, the council is drawn into the realm of merger proposals not by reason of its own scale, capacity and financial position but rather the scale, capacity and financial position of Dungog Shire Council as its neighbour,” the report noted.
Dungog Shire has a road infrastructure backlog of about $42 million and its businesses owners and residents don’t pay as much in rates as those who live in Maitland City.
Mayor of Maitland, Cr Peter Blackmore, has told the Mercury previously that any extra financial burden for Maitland brought on by a merger with Dungog should be met with either state government funding or a rate rise for Dungog residents.
The Baird government has made $258 million in incentives available to councils that choose to merge, but has remained adamant that it would not force amalgamations.