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Role of Local Government


What do councils do?

Councils control such things as garbage removal, local roads, buildings, parks and libraries, child care, youth services, social planning and the local environment in general as well as many other resident services.

Councils work together with both the Federal and State Governments in a number of areas, like making sure that the risk of damage from flooding is as small as possible.

What makes up a local council?

Each local council is governed by a group of people called councillors.

The leader of the councillors is called the mayor.  In Sydney, Parramatta, Newcastle and Wollongong, the leader of the council is called the lord mayor.

The council meets in the council chambers on a regular basis to discuss local issues and to make decisions on behalf of the local community.

County councils are formed by individual local councils who join together. In that way, they can perform those jobs which are better done by more than one council. They have specific jobs to do, for example, flood control or water supply or weed control. Sometimes councils join a regional organisation of councils. This is a good way for local councils to get together and discuss issues which affect more than one council, for example, job creation or regional planning or air pollution. Sharing resources and expertise allows individual councils to save money.

How councils are governed?

Each local council has between five and fifteen councillors. Their role is to make decisions about the running of the community and the council. By consulting with their community, they discover the problems and ideas of local people so that they can do what best meets their needs.

Councillors stand for election because they are interested in the progress or well-being of their district. They do not get paid very much for the time and service they give to the community.

The mayor takes charge of council meetings and represents the council on formal occasions. Councillors decide about what council staff should do, and what should happen in their area. Members of the public can attend council meetings.

Councillors also attend committee meetings. Each committee deals with a different matter. For example, there may be a finance committee, a works committee, a town planning committee and a health committee.

Electing your council

The people who live in, or own property in, a local government area can vote for who they want to be on their local council.

Council elections are held every four years in NSW. The rules about how and when council elections should be held are made by the State Government.

Elections are run by a returning officer who is appointed by the State Electoral Commission.

Who works for councils?

Every council employees a general manager and his/her responsibilities include:

-   employing council staff
-   making sure that the money that council receives and spends is accounted for
-   ensuring that council records are looked after properly

Clerical staff, computer operators, accountants, rates clerks, property valuers and other specialists help with administration.

All councils employ engineering staff. Engineers are responsible for public works - roads, streets, bridges, parks, gardens and special projects.

Many councils also employ specialists like traffic and mechanical engineers.

Environmental health surveyors look after public health and make sure that the environment is clean and safe. Some of their duties are supervising garbage services, controlling infectious disease and inspecting shops and restaurants for health and safety. Local government planners ensure that building and other development occurs in an orderly way. They prepare plans setting out what activities can take place and where.

Building surveyors approve building applications and check construction work to make sure that building rules are followed.

Many councils employ childcare workers to operate childcare centres and before/after school centres. They also manage senior citizens centres and meals-on-wheels services. Some councils employyouth officers, recreation officers and community liaison officers.

Most councils run public libraries, which are staff by librarians.  Sometimes services like the library may be provided jointly by a group of councils.

Not all people working for the council work at the town hall, administration centre or the council chambers. There are many more people who work out in the community, like garbage collectors, gardeners and road workers.

Some councils also use contractors to perform some of their functions.

Paying for what councils do?

There are four main ways councils get the money to pay for all the things they do.


Much of a council's money comes from taxes on land.  These taxes are called rates.

Each year, the owners of properties must pay rates to the council.  The amount they pay depends on the value of their land.  The owner of a small flat will pay much less than the owner of a factory or large rural property.


Another way councils get money is by charging a fee for some of the services they provide. Councils charge for collecting garbage, some charge you to dump rubbish at the tip or to swim in the council pool. You must pay to have a building application approved and to register your dog.


Councils also get money from State and Federal government grants. Sometimes councils can decide how it will spend the grant. Other times the grant is for a specific purpose, like roadwork.


Councils can borrow money for major projects.

More information

The best way to find out about local government is to contact your local council.

Your local council:

-   Produces information for residents and ratepayers
-   Can tell you the name of your elected representatives and how to contact them
-   Can give you the names of your general manager and senior staff.

There are also specialist publications on Local Government (community services, housing, industrial relations) produced by the Local Government and Shires Association and by the Office of Local Government, phone 02 9793 0793 or visit www.olg.nsw.gov.au 

The information on this page was taken from "About your Local Council" produced by the Local Government and Shires Association.

Last modified: 13 Oct 2021