LAKE Macquarie City Council has vowed to ‘‘strongly resist’’ a merger with Newcastle City Council, amid concerns its residents would be worse off.

Council staff were worried they would upset their northern neighbours, so they kept a report on the matter secret until its release late on Monday night, councillors say.

Council general manager Brian Bell said amalgamation was ‘‘not in the interests of the more than 200,000 residents of Lake Macquarie’’.

A merger would have ‘‘major negative financial implications for the Lake Macquarie community over the short, medium and long term’’, Mr Bell said.

Mr Bell made the comments in a submission to the NSW government’s Independent Local Government Review Panel, which recommended amalgamation.

He said the panel’s recommendation of ‘‘bolstering the revenue base of councils’’ should be a priority in any reform.

He reaffirmed the council’s position that ‘‘rate capping should be considered the bare minimum’’.

The panel recommended removing the Morisset area from Lake Macquarie and handing it to a merged Central Coast council.

Mr Bell said such a move would cost Lake Macquarie ‘‘more than $40 million of net operating income over the first five years alone’’.

Labor mayor Jodie Harrison agreed with 90 per cent of the panel’s recommendations.

‘‘The sticking point is amalgamation,’’ Cr Harrison said.

‘‘Looking at the data that’s publicly available, it’s quite clear amalgamation isn’t in the best interests of the people of Lake Macquarie.’’

Independent deputy mayor Laurie Coghlan said ‘‘pigs would fly’’ before amalgamation occurred.

‘‘We bung enough costs on ratepayers without propping up Newcastle,’’ Cr Coghlan said.

Liberal councillor Ken Paxinos said he was ‘‘against any new bureaucracy’’.

‘‘I don’t doubt there could be efficiencies, but they would be lost under a new empire with new powers and higher salaries,’’ Cr Paxinos said.

Lake Macquarie councillors discussed the matter in confidential session, but Cr Coghlan said it should have been public.

‘‘They [council staff] didn’t want the information released before the council had passed the resolution because some people might think we were bashing Newcastle,’’ Cr Coghlan said.

The Local Government Act, however, does not list any such reason for a confidential meeting.

Cr Harrison said the matter was discussed confidentially ‘‘because of potential issues about commercial in confidence’’.

Cr Paxinos said the matter should have been discussed in the open.

Brian Bell, General Manager of Lake Macquarie City Council, sees no benefit to the council if it merged with Newcastle City Council. Picture Peter Stoop


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