Gunnedah shire mayor Jamie Chaffey has scolded the state government for the exorbitant cost of running local government elections.

Cr Chaffey said council could save ratepayers tens of thousands of dollars by running its own election instead of outsourcing to the NSW Electoral Commission (NSWEC).

“The last election was expensive and conducted by the electoral commission,” he said.

“Those previous were run by council, a huge difference in cost, about $20-$30,000 was the difference by [the election] running ourselves.

“The state government took that right away from us and now we see ridiculous price well in excess of $100,000 to run a local government election.

“That burden is now on the ratepayer but out of our control.”

The NSW Office of Local Government said there was no requirement for NSWEC to run local government elections, however, a Gunnedah Shire Council spokesperson said the contention was that elections must be run by a services provider and not council.

The spokesperson highlighted a February 2023 Gunnedah council report which outlined only two providers – NSWEC and the Australian Election Company – were able to fulfil council’s election requirements.

“A number of other providers were contacted but were only able to provide online voting software solutions and did not provide manned polling station services and alternate voting options e.g. postal ballots etc,” the report said.

The most competitive quote for running of Gunnedah’s 2024 election was received by NSWEC at a cost of $156,166.

Cr Chaffey’s comments follow announcement of the date for the 2024 NSW Local Government elections to be held on Saturday, September 14.

The NSW Electoral Commission will be conducting the elections for 126 councils for the election of councillors. Voting is compulsory at all NSW local government elections.

It was also noted the August Ordinary Meeting of Gunnedah Shire Council be held on Wednesday, August 14, prior to the start of the caretaker period which will begin Friday, August 16.

In 2022, Local Government NSW (LGNSW) held a review into the conduct of the elections.

It found that in the lead up to the 2020 election, councils received quotes from the NSWEC that were more than 100 per cent higher and that could not be explained by price inflation or

population growth.

Central Coast Council’s increase for example, was greater than $540,000.

The review also found there were “serious equity issues” with the quotes councils received, which appeared to penalise ratepayers in rural and regional NSW.

“The increases disproportionately impacted smaller rural and regional councils and communities,” the review said.

“It is LGNSW’s position that elections and democracy are a fundamental public good that should not be more expensive for some ratepayers than others.”

The NSWEC said the increased cost was the result of multiple factors including increased staffing costs, polling venue costs, ballot paper printing and the requirement for a new NSWEC call centre.

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