Elections to local councils are due in May next year
An election to 11 new super councils next year is looking increasingly unlikely, the BBC understands.
A new paper is due to go before the executive this week outlining a range of options on the way forward.
But in the absence of an agreement, sources say that the next council election could be fought using the current 26-council model.
The shake-up in local councils has been planned for several years but has proved controversial.
Before devolution, the plan was to create seven enlarged local government authorities, or "super councils", but this was changed to 11 by the DUP and Sinn Fein.
However, so far the two parties have not signed off on the detail, in particular the boundaries of the new council areas.
A senior source in the Department of Environment told the BBC that time for that to happen has now run out before the original, planned election next May.
Representatives of local councils have already rejected a proposal to save £370m by having councils buy services from a single business authority.
They have provided alternative proposals to cut bureaucracy and makes savings.
However it is understood this still needs to be appraised and will take some time.