NSW government offered council grant funding to end legal action
In October 2017, Parramatta’s then-mayor Andrew Wilson claimed the municipality was owed $24 million in rates from Hornsby Shire Council after the boundaries between the councils shifted to put about 15,000 residents from Epping, Carlingford and Beecroft within Parramatta.
In October the following year, Office of Local Government head Tim Hurst and City of Parramatta acting chief executive Sue Coleman exchanged emails regarding a confidential report about a funding proposal from the government department relating to the council’s considerations in settling with Hornsby.
Parramatta resolved at a November 5 council meeting to accept in principle the offer from the Office of Local Government on the condition the funding agreement could be widened to include priority social infrastructure in Epping.
“This list which includes approximately $120M [sic] in community facilities, open space and recreation works for this area … is attached for your information,” Ms Coleman wrote to Mr Hurst on November 6.
Mr Hurst then wrote to a senior policy adviser in Ms Berejiklian’s office saying, “Parramatta have indicated that if I can get the revised agreement back to them today then they can get the settlement offer to Hornsby in time for their next meeting.”
NSW Supreme Court records show the matter was settled and vacated on December 7.
An Office of Local Government spokesperson said the City of Parramatta received $16 million from the Stronger Communities Fund for the development of a community hub in Epping and improvements to Dence Park in Epping.
“This was in addition to the $15 million the City of Parramatta received in 2016 from the fund as a newly created council to kick-start delivery of community infrastructure,” the spokesperson said.
“The Office of Local Government administered the Stronger Communities Fund in accordance with the program’s guidelines and decisions of government.”
The spokesperson has previously said the Office of Local Government needed to directly liaise with the offices of the Premier and Deputy Premier, in order “to clarify matters with the decision makers”.
Greens MLC David Shoebridge, who is chairing an inquiry led by the Upper House’s Public Accountability Committee, said it was a part payment on a complex deal to end litigation between Parramatta and Hornsby “caused by the government’s own bungled merger plans”.
“It’s offensive to see public money used as though it’s the Liberal Party’s private stash to help make their self-created political problems go away,” he said.
The guidelines for the scheme were changed in late June 2018, around the same time Ms Berejiklian approved of funding going to several councils that weren’t merged.
Councils that have been affected by a merger are also now eligible for funding.
Angus Thompson is an Urban Affairs reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.