Our latest super shire seems to be doing a super sort of job

By Riverine Herald

IT’S been two years since the Murray and Wakool Shires disappeared, and Murray River Council began.

And it’s been eight months since its first council was elected.

Spanning almost 12,000 square kilometres and 11,600 ratepayers, there were doubts whether Murray River Council would merge smoothly and be able to service the entire council area.

And while general manager Des Bilske and Mayor Chris Bilkey admitted there had been challenges along the way, they insisted council was in a solid position.

Reassuring news for ratepayers as the 2018/19 budget is released.

‘‘This is our third financial year following amalgmation and it’s very pleasing to have a strong base to work from,’’ Cr Bilkey said.

Armed with an additional $15 million granted by the State Government following amalgamation to invest in community projects, Cr Bilkey said council was in a position where it had ‘little or no doubt’.

‘‘The aim is to create a base from where we can continue to grow. We believe there is significant potential for growth not just in Moama, but right across the council area,’’ he said.

But the amalgamation certainly hasn’t come without challenges.

Such as how to level out rates from two vastly different rating systems.

‘‘For the first four years our rating strategies have had to stay the same as they were for each individual council prior to the amalgamation,’’ he said.

‘‘So any action to undertake rate equalisation will have to wait until the 2019/20 financial year. There will be many changes with that.

‘‘We’re uncertain how that will look, but it will be done over successive budgets. It will be a three to five-year program.’’

Then there’s the tyranny of distance — inevitable when council covers from Waugorah to Mathoura, Tooleybuc to Moama and Barham to Bunnaloo.

‘‘This has naturally caused the segregation of council into four major stations,’’ Mr Bilske said.

‘‘There are troubles with spending too much time on the road. So we’re just trying to work out how to address these issues.’’

But Cr Bilkey said the pros of amalgamation outweigh the cons.

‘‘While amalgamation was certainly challenging, we can now benefit from the joining together of systems from two old councils and gain benefits from duplications in financial systems and staffing structures,’’ Cr Bilkey said.

‘‘Amalgamation causes you to look at your systems and how they’re working and ensure continuous improvement.

‘‘So while it’s been painful, there’s also a light at the end of the tunnel.

‘‘Because no matter how good you are, there’s always a better way of doing this, there’s always a way to improve.’’