No savings two years after merge
COST savings from the amalgamation of the former Warwick and Stanthorpe shires into the Southern Downs Regional Council will be at least a decade away, Mayor Ron Bellingham said yesterday.
On the eve of the two-year anniversary of what has been referred to as the “forced marriage” of the two shires, Cr Bellingham has praised councillors and staff for their efforts in melding the two council organisations into one.
But he was scathing about the lack of State Government support in meeting the enormous costs of the exercise which continue to accrue even mid-way into the first term of the amalgamated council.
Cr Bellingham again pointed to the $5.3 million “bill” sent by the council to the State Government which remains unpaid, with the next council budget a matter of months away.
“We simply don’t have an answer on that money after two years of waiting,” the mayor said.
“This is disappointing, and some costs continue to accumulate.
“We have begun work on the budget which will come out in July, but at this stage it would not appear that we can factor in that outstanding money.”
Cr Bellingham said one of the biggest costs which continued to rack up was the “practical issue” of needing to maintain council offices in both Warwick and Stanthorpe, as well as replacing signage.
He singled out computer networks and workplace health and safety as two areas in which “significant costs” had been incurred in bringing systems together.
He also said council’s hands were tied on human resources, with staff redundancies unable to be offered due to a three-year moratorium deal hammered out between the former Beattie government and unions.
“Basically if we are looking at efficiencies it’s hard to isolate anything of any real substance at this point,” Cr Bellingham said.
“Realistically it’s going to be at least 10 years before we see any real savings from amalgamation, as expenses will continue to accrue. On the plus side our staff are working extremely hard to make it work and the challenges being faced by our councillors in meeting the expectations of the community have been well-documented.”
Cr Bellingham said personally he felt the merging of the two councils had “probably been more difficult than even I had imagined”.