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Extra Roads to Recovery funding is no panacea

Geoff Helisma The recently announced increase in Roads to Recovery funding is “not the complete solution” to Clarence Valley Council’s crumbling roads network. Page MP Kevin Hogan recently announced that the federal government had increased the council’s Roads to Recovery funding by $1.24million for this year and $3.34million in 2016/17. The council’s corporate director, Ashley Lindsay, said any additional funding for maintenance and renewal of council roads was welcome “and will certainly help”; however, it does not alter the council’s current initiative to seek a special rates variation (SRV). “The community has repeatedly told council it wants more spent on roads and road-related infrastructure, and that is what we’re aiming to do,” Mr Lindsay said. “As most people probably know, council is to consider applying for a special rate variation and if that happens, any money that is raised that is in addition to the normal rate-pegged limit will be spent on roads and road-related infrastructure. “Council has a $60million infrastructure backlog and an annual maintenance shortfall of about $5million – most of which is in the roads area. “Short-term and one-off grants will ease the burden on ratepayers, but they don’t provide a long-term solution. “And being one-off, they don’t help us with planning. We don’t know who will be in government next year, so we don’t know what we can expect from whoever is elected.” Meanwhile, the federal government’s members have been overstating the importance of the latest round of its Financial Assistance Grants (FAGs) – an annual amount paid quarterly. Page MP Kevin Hogan’s media release stated: “The Coalition Government is committed to supporting local government to deliver the services and facilities they need. “Councils are free to spend this untied grant funding according to local priorities, including for infrastructure, health, recreation, environment, employment and roads projects.” However, the grant amount announced for Clarence Valley Council, $10,146,245, was already accounted for; “it doesn’t provide any additional funds; the council has factored the annual allocation into the budget”, Mr Lindsay said. “We’ll happily take whatever is on offer, but what would really make a difference to ratepayers is a bi-partisan commitment from the two major political parties for a change to the formula for Financial Assistance Grants that takes account of the financial strain facing all rural and regional councils.” Additionally, the federal government has “paused” indexation of the FAGs that would usually apply through to and including the 2016/17 financial year. Under normal circumstances “the quantum of the grant pool changes annually in line with changes in population and the Consumer Price Index, so as to maintain its real per capita value (the Act provides discretion to the Treasurer to alter this annual indexation),” the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development’s website states.