ACHIEVING a high standard of performance in local government doesn’t come easy.
So when Queanbeyan Palerang Regional Council (QPRC) won the AR Bluett Memorial Award – at the NSW annual Local Government Conference – it was a big moment for the city’s governance journey.
Mayor Tim Overall says the council’s innovative approach to managing council business, is an example of how teamwork and dedication can transform a city.
“This award is very significant within the local-government sector and very significant for our staff because it’s a recognition of teamwork from the bottom to the top, and the way that council has delivered so many infrastructure projects through a very difficult time,” he says.
Named after Albert Robert Bluett, who helped write the Local Government ACT of 1919, the prize has been awarded every year since 1945 to the “most progressive” council in NSW.
But Mr Overall says the council’s progressive credentials have been gained through some “challenging” years.
In 2016 the NSW government forced Palerang and Queanbeyan councils to merge.
Despite some community opposition to the amalgamation, Mr Overall says the merger is now seen as a “success” and has saved the combined councils a lot of money.
“We’ve achieved merger savings of about $13 million over the next 10 years, but that is not the major aspect of success of the merger, it’s about doing more and delivering more with the same amount of resources,” Mr Overall says.
“When we set out on the merger journey we did not want to embark on a transition, we wanted to transform into a brand new organisation from the ground up.
“It’s been a success; I say that because the community is essentially the judge of that, and the feedback I get from the community is very positive.
“Of the 20 mergers across the state, I believe we have been the most successful.”
Along the journey, council has had its fair share of challenges over the delivery of some of its infrastructure projects.
Public opinion was divided over the 4.6-kilometre Ellerton Drive Extension (EDE), which was completed this year at a cost of $86 million, jointly funded by the council, the NSW and federal governments.
But, Mr Overall says, the council’s resilience in overcoming hurdles is a reflection of its dedicated staff.
“It’s been a challenging period, the whole four-year transformaton into a new council and, of course, this year with covid, droughts and floods; but behind the scenes of creating a new organisation, there are a lot of hard-working people.”
The council, responsible for 59,959 people and 5319 square kilometres of land, has delivered on many new projects in 2019-2020 including the $30 million Old Cooma Road duplication, the $41 million Nerriga Road upgrade and the commissioning of a new water recycling plant at Googong.
The council has also committed to a $130 million Queanbeyan sewage treatment plant and a $74 million civic and cultural precinct project, with construction expected to start on the precinct in 2021.
“Currently, council staff are housed across 11 buildings around town. This project will bring them all together and include the library and community spaces within the new building, as well as a government agency with 100 new jobs,” says Mr Overall.
“We’ve had a roll out of significant infrastructure projects this year. It’s been a year of transformation across our local government area, all in the midst of drought, bushfires, flood and covid.”
This year the AR Bluett Awards Trust received an all-time high 20 applications for this year’s awards, says Mr Overall.
QPRC was named the metropolitan/regional winner and Bellingen Shire Council was named as the rural category winner.
“The award has been a real boost for our staff and our community,” Mr Overall says.