Message from the Mayor: 9 February 2024

Published on 09 February 2024


Hello, I'm John Connors, the Mayor of the Dungog Shire bringing you this week's Mayoral Message.

Throughout the week, the bulky waste pickup has been going on throughout the shire and will continue until the 16th February. So if your bulky waste hasn't yet been collected, don't despair. There's still time.

I've also been asked to remind you that there'll be a separate pickup to collect left-behind white goods and TVs, as these items can't be taken with the initial collection. So again, don’t despair if your white goods or TV are left on the pavement for now.

There's been a bit of noise around in recent weeks as to the cost of some of the bridge replacements.

Regrettably, incorrect signs were put up on a couple of occasions, which showed the 2020 costing of the bridge rather than the 2023/24 costing and this has led to some comments as to why the huge increase. Well, the huge increase is due largely to government, mainly for political purposes, putting out money across the state for the same type of work to be carried out in the same period of time.

This obviously, increases the demand for particular contractors and increases challenges for the supply chains. The result of that, of course, is increasing costs. And a couple of examples that council has worked on to show this increase, shows that over a six year period the construction cost of small bridges has more than doubled.

And the reason is, as I've said, is somewhat obvious when this council alone was funded to build 23 bridges in an initially very short period, a period which has now been extended until April of this year. So a period of approximately four years. Other councils throughout NSW had to build as many as 73 bridges. So this clearly shows the demand that has been placed on specialist contractors and the supply chains and the result is huge increases in construction costs. Fortunately, the government has realised this and has passed on to Council additional funding to compensate for the increase in costs over time.

Last week I attempted to explain some of the road funding that Councils receive, the Block Grant Funding, and to highlight how unfair that funding is to Dungog Shire Council and how inconsistent it is in that we get $10,500 per kilometre to maintain a road, Port Stephens gets $17,500 and it’s a similar situation with Maitland Council for exactly the same road.

The other main regular source of road funding comes from the federal government under the federal assistance grants. These monies come from the Federal Government to the State Government and are then dished out to councils throughout NSW. The funding model favors metropolitan councils and disadvantages small rural councils such as Dungog Shire. The Australian Local Government Association has lobbied to try and increase the level of funding back to 1% of taxation revenue and this lobbying has been quite unsuccessful. The Local Government NSW has also lobbied with respect to the funding model. However, there are some difficulties in that regard as its members are dominated by metropolitan councils that benefit from the current model. Back in November of 2023, The Grattan Institute released a report on road funding. It’s a report that's targeted to federal funding and in particular the Federal Assistance Grants and the Roads to Recovery Grants, both of which as I have said are federally funded.

The report, in essence, recommends that the federal government put in an additional $1 billion, $600 million additional to the Federal Assistance Grants and $400 million additional to the Roads to Recovery.

The report makes good reading and it's available on the Grattan Institute website. And it starts off by stating the obvious and says, ‘we don't need to drive too far on a rural road in Australia to encounter a pothole, soft edge, or other hazard. Our local roads, especially in the bush are a dangerous disgrace. They need more funding.’

The report makes a number of recommendations to the federal government and it says that, as I've said, the core funding should be increased by $1 billion, $600 million towards Federal Assistance Grants and $400 million to Roads to Recovery.

It also says that the allocation of grants between and within states should change and should be done according to the principle that every council should have the capacity to provide a similar level of service to their community.

I'm only picking on some of the recommendations. But all of the recommendations, would favour councils such as Dungog Shire, so we live in hope that eventually the federal government may take on board the recommendations from this report, but there's no evidence of that to date, none whatsoever.

It's worth quoting one further comment from the overview of the report where it says, ‘better road management would help councils cut through the morass of red tape and time wasting obligations they currently face. Councils are obliged to spend part of any Roads to Recovery Grant on road signs, acknowledging the federal government as the funding source and to get the money out the door within six months. Tied state grants sometimes favour projects that are not priorities for locals.’

Any of us involved in local government could have written that. It highlights the problem that all councils, particularly small councils such as Dungog Shire face, and as I've said, hopefully, the federal government may choose to address it. It's not a problem created by the current federal government. It's a problem that's been created over a long period of time and no government of whatever persuasion has done anything to remedy it. So we live in hope that this report may be the catalyst for some change in the future, particularly with lobbying from the Australian Labour Government Association.

So with those comments, that's it for me for this week. Until next week, good luck and goodbye.

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