Shellharbour council says legal fight ‘within budget’

Shellharbour council has moved to calm community concern over it’s legal budget, after the Land and Environment Court on Tuesday dismissed its case against the NSW Government’s merger plan.

While the council would not reveal the exact figure it has spent on fighting the merger with Wollongong council, it issued a media release to say “the legal costs to date … are well within council’s current annual budget”.

The council said it had set aside a budget of $250,000 in the 2016/17 budget for legal expenses. 

Additionally “contingency funding” of more than $440,000 has been set aside for extra legal costs.

As well as dismissing the council’s case against the merger as there was “no defect in the process for this proposed amalgamation”, Land and Environment Court Justice Tim Moore also ordered the council to pay the NSW Government’s costs.

It is not known how much the government’s legal bill will be.

Mayor Marianne Saliba said councillors had “continually weighed up the financial implications against the social and economic impact that merging these councils would have on the Shellharbour community” when decided to launch legal proceedings.

“We know that legal matters can be expensive, but nowhere near the amount of money that our community would lose if the merge were to go ahead,” she said.

“We have continued to build up a legal expenses contingency fund during the past few years for extraordinary cases such as this and as a result, there will be no loss of services or expenditure in any other area as a result of this legal action.”

The council has called an urgent extraordinary meeting for Thursday night to discuss the court judgement and legal proceedings.

It is believed they will decide at the meeting whether to appeal to the court judgement. The council has been given until July 27 to lodge the appeal.

The 6.30pm meeting will be held in both open and closed sessions.

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