It’s harder to think of a word less acceptable in the local government lexicon than “amalgamation”. This article from WA got me thinking about it again though.
In a previous post I lamented that local government boundaries are generally a by product of political horse trading and seldom reflect a considered design according to principles of catchments or communities.
Regardless, scale is a more important issue. In my experience a Council without access to a budget of at least $70M in current terms simply can’t afford to deliver world class service, maintain its asset base and provide leadership to its community. This means it needs a benchmark population of around 70,000 residents to be able to support that kind of revenue.
In many regional areas of Australia’s this is simply not practical. The area required to catch that many people is just too large to be practical. In our urban areas it is a different story. So to propose a new Council that still serves less than 30,000 people seems to miss the point.
At the other end of the scale, the Auckland super city seems to be in danger of going to the other extreme. Each of the 8 Councils being amalgamated had sufficient scale to be financially viable to my mind. It’s not clear to me what the benefits of going beyond that scale are. What’s more, by dissolving the two tiers of regional and territorial local government into one, I fear local government in New Zealand is at risk of losing one of the better compromises in managing the dynamic between catchments and communities that I know of.