At last week’s July 27 Clarence Valley Council (CVC) meeting, Cr Debrah Novak put forward a motion for staff to “consult/invite communities and industries, directly impacted by the black summer bushfires, to identify projects and have those projects prepared to shovel ready for funding”, however, it was no to be.
Cr Novak’s motion added a ‘point 2’ to the staff’s recommendation to “note the [$18,423,008] grants received under the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery [BLER] fund – Stage 2”.
Upon reading out her motion, Cr Richie Williamson asked, “Is there a third round of the BLER fund?
“I tried to look for a third round but was unable to find where there is any reference to a third round.”
Acting general manager Laura Black said, “I believe the website talks about, there may be one in the future, but there has been no announcement of one yet.”
The BLER website states, regarding ‘Stage 3 – Final projects/initiatives’, that “a final package of projects and initiatives to be agreed between the Australian and NSW governments, to be designed and delivered by the end of 2021,” however, there is no mention of projects needing to be shovel-ready.
Cr Andrew Baker asked, “Who would be responsible for the preparation and the cost of these projects to shovel ready?”
Cr Novak said, “The same staff who prepared the 11 other projects for the BLER.”
Cr Williamson said, “…the motion lacks direction of where funding might be coming from, so my question is, ‘Is there funding required to get projects to shovel ready state?’”
Ms Black said, “It sounds like Cr Novak was indicating that the staff who prepared the [approved BLER] applications … ought to be the same staff”.
She said that if that were the case, staff “would need to bring council’s operational plan back to council and determine what wasn’t going to be done, if you want to reallocate staff to other projects”.
Cr Peter Ellem asked if “most of” CVC’s BLER-funded “projects were on council-owned land, with the exception of Ewingar fire station”; is that the norm, to go for grant funding on council-owned assets and allow the community to apply independently”?
Ms Black said, “That’s the case and, certainly, BLER fund was available to not only councils, but community groups – they could have applied.
At this point, Cr Baker proposed an amendment, “should there be a third round”, for CVC to receive community submissions so the merit of each proposal could be considered.
Cr Peter Ellem pointed out that “eligibility criteria can change from one [grant fund] to the next”.
Ms Black: “Correct, I don’t know what Stage 3 looks like … and I don’t know who will be eligible to apply.”
Cr Greg Clancy asked if Cr Baker’s suggestion would “add another layer to something that is already complicated”?
Ms Black: “Yes, I think it would add a layer of complexity to a grant funding program.
“If we are accepting submissions of ideas to work up, it could cause a delay to those groups actually applying.”
Cr Baker made another amendment, removing Cr Novak’s point 2, which was unanimously supported.
Meanwhile, Cr Novak’s desire to direct any future BLER grant funding towards those who “were directedly impacted” remains.
After the meeting, she said, “I’m investigating the possibility of putting in a NOM and I’ll be talking with the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery [BLER] fund [people].”