Minister for Local Government Wendy Tuckerman, a fomer Administrator herself of Hilltops Council in 2016, where a $16 million deficit was racked up, announced on Wednesday her decision that the Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council will be demerged. After a long, drawn-out process over the last 6 years, the NSW Local Boundaries Commission finally handed its report to Minister Tuckerman in late July recommending that the CGRC de-amalgamate, which she chose to follow.

“This is a complex decision which I’ve made after considering both the report and dissenting report,” Mrs Tuckerman said.

Mrs Tuckerman said she considered the recent reports published by the Local Government Boundaries Commission and her decision was based on the merits of the proposal put forward by Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council and the subsequent recommendations and examination by the independent Boundaries Commission.

“There are countless examples across the state of amalgamated councils performing strongly by lowering costs and delivering better infrastructure and services for residents. “It is disappointing that Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council has not been able to achieve this outcome.

“I’d like to thank Cootamundra-Gundagai Councillors and staff for serving their communities. I will make a further announcement on the next steps and transitional arrangements in due course.

“Finally, I’d like to acknowledge the Local Council Boundaries Commission for its work.” Minister Tuckerman said it is anticipated council elections for the de-amalgamated shires will be held in line with the local government general elections in September 2024. Current CGRC Mayor, Charlie Sheahan, said he and the Council was pleased with the decision.

“Our community now can take a big deep breath and realise now that we’ve corrected the wrongs of the past,” Mayor Sheahan said.

All of the CGRC councillors have had to go into the potential demerger process fearlessly not knowing if they get to continue being Councillors, with Sheahan promising to work with the Minister to save the existing positions.

“I’ve offered 100 per cent support to the staff in any way that we can as the elected body, if that’s the way the Minister wishes to execute the process of demerging,” Sheahan continued. “The community endured a long period under administration and that’s not really palatable with your community. The sooner you’re under an elected Council, the happier your community is. “I know the Minister is looking at having the previous Councils in place from 2024, but I’d hate to see a long process under administration in doing that. “The Minister is giving herself plenty of time to get the divisions done by 2024. Why would you ignore the resources that you’ve that are at hand with an elected body that’s there? The Government have finally listened to the community and it’s probably in their best interest leading up to an election next year.” Mayor Sheahan mentioned for Councils such as Snowy Valley, Bomballa or Hilltops some advice if they are to demerge too.

“Follow the procedure that’s laid out there in the act. It’s rigorous and you tick off the boxes as you go. You’ve got to have your Council and prove that the community are onboard. “The Boundaries Commission surveyed 89 per cent of our community with phone polls, so they had a good coverage of what the community wanted and all of that information went into their recommendation.

“Your business case then follows through. It doesn’t necessarily have to say you’re in dire financial problems it, but it could say you are just better off serving a smaller or previous community.

Under the Act is does say you can change the boundaries.

“I’m not saying what’s happened here will create an avalanche on demergers but they’re all going to have to go through the same process as we have. It’s taken us four years to get there, through a lot of heartache and blood spilled between Councillors and communities. It’s a hard road.”

Glen McAtear, Acting General Manager of Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council also weighed in with his thoughts in light of the news.

“I’m asking everyone to be patient. Our staff have been through two Boundaries Commissions hearings and they’re going through this now. It’s not easy for them,” GM McAtear said.

“I understand that everybody’s in a hurry to demerge. It’s not going to happen overnight. It would be nice to think it will.

At this stage, we don’t even know how it’s going to happen.

“The Minister hasn’t decided how it’s going to happen, whether it be the way of an administrator or by any other means. “My concern as far as General Manager is the mental health of my staff. If everybody can please understand that.

Your potholes will still get fixed, we’re still going to do the job that we’ve always done. “It’s business as usual until we demerge. We are going to demerge but when, I don’t know.”

Tim Warren