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Missing a disaster funding deadline haunts CVC

Geoff Helisma |

At the July 23 Clarence Valley Council (CVC) meeting, councillors were faced with a conundrum: if they approved a “request for council to undertake renewal of riverbank protection works” on Palmers Island, would it set a precedent and result in CVC spending money for which it had no budget?

Staff had recommended against the proposal and flagged a cost of $67,000 if the work was approved.

A final decision was deferred until the August CVC meeting, to allow staff to compile a report that “identifies” possible future applications similar to the current applicant, who is identified as “property 112290” in the report to council.

Councillors adopted a Riverbank Protection Policy in February this year and, in March, adopted a maintenance strategy for riverbank protection assets.

These decisions informed the staff’s recommendation reject the application because the policy and strategy advocate “not undertaking riverbank protection works where the only benefit of the works is the protection of private property”.

Meanwhile, the property’s owner, the report to council stated, “has requested that the policy and strategy … be varied” for their property due to “previous correspondence they received from council following the 2013 floods; and that council, at its expense, undertake renewal of riverbank protection works adjacent to their property”.

“It is recommended that council not approve a variation to the policy or strategy.”

In February 2015 CVC wrote to landowners about CVC’s “proposal to repair the damaged sections of riverbank between Gillies Lane and Durringtons Lane, Palmers Island, which were damaged by the flood of January 2013”.

However, CVC did not complete the work – funded under the National Disaster Relief and Recovery arrangements by the NSW Government – prior to the June 30, 2015 funding deadline.

At the July 16 Corporate, Governance & Works Committee meeting, Cr Jason Kingsley had a different view, gaining support for his motion to honour CVC’s previous commitment to undertake the works to a maximum value of $67,000 “as stated in a letter dated 24 February 2015”.

His motion included the works in the 2019/20 capital works program (funded from the general fund) and directed staff to notify the owners that they would be responsible for costs above $67,000.

Each of these provisions was retained, pending the report flagged for the August CVC meeting.

Councillor Andrew Baker gained support from all but two councillors, Ellem and Lysaught, to defer the final decision until August to consider a report that “identifies” properties similar to 112290 and to “report details [of] the associated financial liabilities”.

At the meeting, Cr Baker argued that endorsing the committee’s recommendation outright would “set a precedent … without knowing exactly what is involved”.

“Neighbours would speak up and say they were covered by the same council letter,” he said.

“So it’s about bringing fairness to all property owners.”

While Cr Lysaught had opposed deferring the matter until the August meeting, he said “it is apparent a [previous] commitment was made and it should be honoured”.

“And if there are others [it will] just be another case of delaying the inevitable,” he said. Councillors were unanimous with their final decision – Cr Novak declared an interest and did not participate.