New England Joint Organisation adopts a new fee structure which means Tenterfield will pay much more

New England Joint Organisation chair Michael Pearce with executive officer Brooke Southwell.

New England Joint Organisation chair Michael Pearce with executive officer Brooke Southwell.

Tenterfield Shire Council agreed to adopt a change in fee structure earlier this year which will see it pay close to 340 per cent more to remain a member of the New England Joint Organisation of Councils (NEJO).

The original NEJO membership fee on start-up in 2018 was a flat fee of $5000 per council. This year Tenterfield has paid $13,180 for the privilege.

Late last year two membership fee structure options were put to the board of the NEJO in a report prepared by executive officer Brooke Southwell for review at its November 2019 meeting.

In the report, Ms Southwell stated that the joint organisation had fixed costs of $115,000 per year that could not be funded through grants and could not be maintained under the existing membership structure. She also outlined the fees charged by other joint organisations which ranged from under $10,00 to over $50,000.

For the 2020/21 budget member councils were asked to adopt either a flat fee of $17,000 each, or a population-based fee structure similar to the one used by the Orana Joint Organisation of Councils.

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At the time, Inverell Council indicated it would prefer the flat fee structure of $17,000 as did Glen Innes and Armidale councils. Given its smaller population base (with only Uralla being smaller), Tenterfield opted for the population-based calculation.

The membership fees agreed to at a teleconference meeting in April were that the NEJO 2020/2021 membership contribution be made up of a flat fee of $8,500 plus a 50 per cent per capita fee based on 2016 Census population data.

This resulted in the following membership fees per council: Armidale - $28,320 ( based on a population of 31,500); Inverell - $19,490 ( based on a population 17,300); Moree - $17,280 (based on a population of 13,750); Narrabri $17,070 (based on a population of 13,400); Glen Innes - $14,200 ( based on a population of 8,800); Tenterfield $13,180 ( based on a population of 7,150); and Uralla -$12,680 (based on a population of 6,350).

Despite the variation in membership fees each council continues to have a single vote, as legislated.

Gwydir Shire Council joined the group as an associate member for a fee of $8,500 which means they can participate in meetings but have no voting rights.

Tenterfield Mayor Peter Petty said while the fee hike was necessary to cover the JO's administrations costs, Tenterfield's membership would be reviewed once the annual fee again comes due.

"We supported the decision, with questions," Cr Petty said.

"There are concerns about creating another level of government.

"In time it (the JO) has to start paying for itself but it's early days yet. We're only in our second or third year."

Cr Petty said the joint organisation is already working on waste-to-energy strategies, water issues and a roads management plan.

"It's got to work or it's just a waste of time."

Uralla Mayor Michael Pearce chairs NEJO and he also says it is early days for the group.

"There are 12 joint organisations across NSW with some of the test case JOs having operated for 13 years now, so we're one of the babies in the group and one of the smaller JO's," he said.

"We've received $150,000 funding from the government and that is going into developing a New England road network strategy and a tourism campaign.

"A joint organisation is not a third tier of government, it is a group of councils who can get together as one voice and look at initiatives that cover the region."