Just when talk of a possible merger between Maitland City Council and Dungog Shire Council seemed to be a distant memory, the prospect has been thrown back into the mix.
The state government’s local government reforms became even more complex on Thursday, when news broke that Minister Paul Toole had sent the Maitland/Dungog merger proposal to the Office of Local Government for examination.
The decision appeared out of the blue, the state having backflipped on its recommendation for the Maitland/Dungog amalgamation late last year in favour of a union between Gloucester and Dungog shires.
But a new proposal from Gloucester to join other councils to the north instead, which would leave Dungog without a partner, means the Maitland/Dungog merger is back on the table.
To add more confusion to the mix, Port Stephens Council has expressed interest in merging with Dungog to avoid an amalgamation with its giant neighbour, Newcastle.
As Dungog mayor Harold Johnston put it, it’s enough to make your head spin.
The pros and cons of a Maitland/Dungog merger have been discussed repeatedly in the past year.
But the state’s latest change of heart makes the whole operation look shoddy and indecisive.
It raises two questions: why are dramatic changes to recommendations being considered so late in the game and is this going to end up costing tax payers?
At some point the state will have to make a decision and stick to it.
No matter what that decision is, it’s a guarantee that there will be at least one unhappy party.
The state has promoted its reform campaign as one that would make the local government sector simpler.
But as time passes, the situation has become more complex.