OPINION: As the merger process rolls on, the state's councils are operating in different worlds

AS Bathurst councillors prepare to elect a mayor on Wednesday night, they must be wondering how long their selection will be in the job.

One month? Two months? A few days?

Oberon’s legal challenge against its forced council merger with Bathurst remains unresolved in the Land and Environment Court, but the NSW Government’s determination to see the merger go ahead remains undiminished.

If Oberon’s challenge is rejected – and Woollahra’s similar challenge has already suffered the same fate – then it’s a fair bet that the NSW Government won’t waste too much time in forcing the amalgamation.

Premier Mike Baird’s ambitious proposal to reduce the number of councils in the state was always destined to be a messy process simply because of the complexity of the operation, but it seems particularly messy at the moment.

Effectively, councils in NSW are now operating within different worlds.

Councils which aren’t affected by merger proposals are continuing with business as usual, conducting elections earlier this month as they normally would and getting on with planning and major projects with the certainty that nothing will be changing.

Other councils have already been merged, but are operating with administrators and will not conduct elections until next year, leaving the community in limbo until they get the chance to elect their representatives.

Still other councils, like Bathurst and Oberon, are awaiting the result of a legal challenge to see if they will be merging or not, making it difficult for councillors and senior staff alike as they remain uncertain about what their future will look like.

Perhaps a period like this was inevitable as Mr Baird and his Local Government Minister Paul Toole embarked on this complex, controversial remaking of the local government sector.

Five years down the track, with the new councils settled and the projected cost savings able to be shown, this period of uncertainty might have faded and everyone will wonder what all the fuss was about.

But while some councils get on with business with certainty about their future and some don’t, the NSW Government must know it is open to criticism. And it must know that the image doesn’t look good.

How the local government reforms are judged later is one thing, but how they are being judged now is just as important.

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