City of Albany to review wards system in face of incoming Local Government reforms

Stuart McGuckinAlbany Advertiser
The City of Albany Administration and Civic Centre building at North Road, Albany.
Camera IconThe City of Albany Administration and Civic Centre building at North Road, Albany. Credit: Laurie Benson/Albany Advertiser

Albany residents will be invited to have their say on the future of the City’s wards in the face of local government reforms.

Councillors voted 11-1 to endorse the Review of Wards and Representation Discussion Paper at a meeting on Tuesday night, a public comment was expected to open on Thursday and run through until December 8.

The review was prompted by a letter from Local Government Minister John Carey to the City which suggested a voluntary pathway to enact the incoming reforms.

A report prepared for council recommended endorsing the review and advising the Minister the City would follow the voluntary pathway set out in the letter.

The endorsement came after some debate over an alternate motion tabled by Cr Chris Thomson, which would have delayed the endorsement of the discussion paper to give councillors more time to provide feedback on its detail.

Cr Thomson, who was the only person to vote against the eventual endorsement of the paper, argued that councillors had not been given enough time to provide feedback and that the “document was not ready to go out”.

“The document raises a number of questions in several places that are not addressed until much further down the document, if at all,” he said.

“That’s really sub-optimal communication.”

Cr Thomas Brough seconded the amended motion and spoke for it, while Crs Greg Stocks, Paul Terry, and Sandie Smith all spoke against the motion.

“I think this is about net benefit really . . . we want to make a decision on December 14 otherwise we need to meet in January,” Cr Stocks said.

“We can’t consult in January because everyone is one holiday and we’ve been criticised for that in days gone by.

“If we pass this amendment there is a cost, what is that cost?

The cost is the quality of community consultation and if there is one thing that is more important that the minutiae of the words, it’s for the community to have their say.”

The alternate motion was lost 4-8, with Crs Thomson, Brough, Delma Baesjou and Matt Benson-Lidholm voting for the defeated motion.

Under the incoming reforms, the City will be asked to reduce its number or councillors from 13 to between five and nine.

The present council is represented by two elected members from each of the City’s six wards — West, Frederickstown, Yakamia, Breaksea, Vancouver and Kalgan — as well as the Mayor.

At the time of the 2021 local government elections, the average councillor-to-elector ratio across the wards was 1 to 2326.

A reduction to eight councillors would mean there would be one councillor for every 3511 electors, with estimated annual cost savings of $143,880.

The draft discussion paper suggests two separate two-ward options, split primarily by either an Albany Highway or Chester Pass Road boundary, or an option where wards are no longer in place.

The discussion paper outlines community interest, physical and topographical features, demographic trends, economic factors, and the ratio of councillors to electors as formal assessment factors.

The paper also lays out some of the advantages and disadvantages of a ward system.

Another report will be prepared for council after the public comment period.

The letter from Mr Carey has indicated the City should complete its review by February 14, 2023, next year, including the determination of specific changes to the structure of council for the 2023 and 2025 elections.

The public comment period is now open.

The discussion paper is be available on the City’s website or hard will be able to be sourced from the Albany Public Library of the City’s Administration Building on North Road.

Public comments comments can also be made on the City’s website, or further details about how to make a hard copy submission can be found in the discussion paper.

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