Hornsby bites back

Mayor Steve Russell: “Council cannot be the biggest loser in all this”
Mayor Steve Russell: “Council cannot be the biggest loser in all this”

Enough government dithering, says Council, we want Epping back

Cash-strapped Hornsby Council has had enough of being short-changed and kept in the dark about its amalgamation, taking matters into its own hands.

At a Council meeting last week councillors voted unanimously to try and get back a sizeable chunk of the lucrative area south of the M2 which included Epping and Carlingford, given by the State Government to Parramatta City Council during the amalgamation process in May last year.

The move effectively means a partial reversal of its own amalgamation with Parramatta, ironic given Liberal dominated Hornsby Council has been one of the State Government’s biggest amalgamation advocates, with a council report concluding: ‘It’s strongest supporter of local government reform has been left weaker with less scale and capacity than before.’

The council is tired of waiting to see what Premier Gladys Berejiklian intends to do regarding the amalgamation after Ku-ring-gai won a court case in March to set aside merger plans.

The handover to Parramatta equated to around a fifth of its annual ratepayer income. In an exclusive interview with the Monthly Chronicle, Hornsby’s Mayor Steve Russell said: “We objected to losing Epping at the time but we didn’t kick up too much of a fuss as we could see the benefits of an amalgamation with Ku-ring-gai, with better infrastructure and better services.

“But it looks like this might stall so we need to send the government a message saying ‘you need to think of us – we can’t be the biggest loser in all this’”.

The move has come about because, says the Mayor, “I didn’t want us to be left holding the dirty parcel as the amalgamation process was all getting too hard for the Government.

“I asked our Chief Financial Officer to do the sums and it seems that through the loss of this land and ratepayer base, residents would be losing $200 million over the next decade, reducing our surplus by $140m.

“So under S218E of the Local Government Act we’re applying to the Boundaries Commission to get Epping back under Hornby’s jurisdiction and Carlingford can stay with Parramatta. There’s no cost to our ratepayers to do this.”

The council’s report also said that if successful, the move to get back developable assets in the Epping area is worth between $50 million to $100 million.

The Mayor added that “we still think a merger is the best option for Hornsby, but if not, we want Epping back.”

If the Government doesn’t agree to the move, Hornsby’s budget will be effectively reduced by 15%. He added that he will stand again for Mayor at the forthcoming council elections on September 9.

Greens MP and Local Government spokesperson David Shoebridge said: “Every rat is leaving the Coalition’s forced council amalgamations ship and it’s well and truly time that Captain Berejiklian scuttled the whole affair.

“The decision to hand over parts of Epping and Carlingford to Parramatta Council was never about the best interests of residents, it was designed to deliver money and Liberal votes for Parramatta Council.

“The Greens support the return of Epping and Carlingford to Hornsby, not just because of the finances, but because those residents never got a say in the forced boundary change in the first place.”

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