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Mayor moves to fast-track road upgrades

Geoff Helisma|

Clarence Valley’s mayor, Jim Simmons, has gained support of his fellow councillors, apart from Jason Kingsley, to consider using “untied (surplus) cash from [Clarence Valley] Council’s [CVC] reserves to [fund] … the upgrade of high priority regional or local gravel roads to bitumen seal”.

Ultimately, the mayor aims to establish a separate financial reserve for that purpose – the Strategic Road Improvement Reserve – while, at the same time, lobbying the NSW Government for grant assistance “to fund or jointly fund the three highest priority roads adopted by [councillors] as being of significant strategic and/or economic value”.

In a report to the September 24 CVC meeting, staff identified untied funds in the Clarence Care + Support (CCS) reserves – $3.288 million as at 30 June 2019 (unaudited) – and $419,483 in the General Fund.

However, they warned that an allocation from the CCS reserves “toward the Strategic Road Improvement Reserve increases the risk of [CVC’s] ability to complete the actions associated with” the councillors’ August council meeting decision: to “establish a not-for-profit entity to operate CCS”.

Staff advised that setting up the new entity would require “assistance from council, being via loan funding, the costs of which are unknown at this stage”.

“The source of this loan funding was not identified in [August] … and if the Untied CCS Reserves are allocated to the Strategic Road Improvement Reserve, the loan funding will need to be sourced from other General Fund financial reserves,” staff wrote.

In regard to the General Fund’s $419,483, staff advised that “remaining Unrestricted Reserves would be reviewed during 2019/20”.

“Under the Improvement Strategies that secured Council’s Fit for Future Status, last reported to Council in June 2019 … [CVC] is still required to find operational savings of approximately $4million over a two-year period,” staff wrote.

Councillors supported receiving “a report to the October 2019 meeting that identifies three or more regional or local roads or proposed roads within the Clarence Valley local government area (LGA), where upgrading or construction to sealed road standard would create significant strategic and/or economic value”.

Councillors hope that the establishment of the Strategic Road Improvement Reserve would help “attract state and federal government funding or joint funding”.

They called for “a report to the November 2019 meeting on the untied funds available, from Clarence Care + Support Reserves, to be transferred to the Strategic Road Improvement Reserve”; an “analysis of all untied financial reserves” that could be transferred to the road improvement reserve and the development of any “necessary plans; and costings to support funding applications that will enable the earliest construction commencement” of the appropriate roads.

Meanwhile, CVC is still awaiting the outcome of an election promise by the NSW Government to “take over funding and operations of regional roads that exist within regional NSW”.

“Council has had discussions with the local member regarding the proposal and expressed the importance and need for the state government to take over Clarence Way [the only unsealed regional road within the Clarence Valley LGA],” staff wrote.

“To date the state government have [sic] not advised of timing of their proposed takeover, likewise they have not advised of the arrangements that surround their proposal.”

The Independent is unable to report on what councillors discussed at the September meeting because the live broadcast failed at about 5.37pm, prior to discussion of the mayor’s notice of motion.

The usual podcast was lost, too – CVC says on its website: “Due to technical diffculties [sic] this meeting did not record.”