Stimulus package receives a mixed reception

Council road works continues. Image: CCLicence

Central Coast Council looks set to receive a share of a $395M local government stimulus package from the NSW Government, aimed at reducing the impact of COVID-19.

Parliamentary Secretary for the Central Coast, Adam Crouch, said the funding would help safeguard jobs and delivery of services and infrastructure.

“As council staff were not eligible for the Commonwealth’s JobKeeper payment, the government is providing $112.5M to fund a Council Job Retention Allowance of $1,500 per fortnight, for three months, for eligible employees,” Crouch said.

“The package also includes $32.76M funding for all councils to cover the increase in the 2020-21 Emergency Services Levy.

“Central Coast Council will receive a credit of $1,093,869, which can be redirected into providing services and building infrastructure.

“Low-cost loans can also be used by Council to fund infrastructure projects, thanks to a $250M increase to the TCorp local government lending facility,” Crouch said.

A Council spokesperson said Council was still assessing the package criteria to determine eligibility.

This will include consideration of how the package will interact with the 12-month Splinter Award, negotiated between local government unions, councils and employer association, Local Government NSW, to which Council is a signatory.

Mayor, Lisa Matthews, is calling on the government to deliver even more financial support to enable Council to continue to operate effectively and provide essential services.

Cr Matthews acknowledged the stimulus package but said it did not go far enough to help regional communities such as the Central Coast.

“Central Coast Council, along with our other regional counterparts, continue to struggle with the financial impacts of the coronavirus,” she said.

“For our community, this has been compounded by the recent bushfires and floods.

“We are grateful that the State Government has listened to local councils’ campaigning and provided a number of financial relief measures.

“There is much more that they can do to let Council get on with it and help the community.

“Council has faced increased costs and at the same time is experiencing declining revenue, as more and more ratepayers are forced into financial hardship.

“Council is seeking additional assistance measures from the State Government including: retaining significant developer contributions and support for the cost of conducting Local Planning Panels; increasing financial assistance grants payments; allowing Council to retain the waste levy; pensioner rebates to be paid back to Council; and, a change of current policy with regard to restricted fund and infrastructure spending.

“The situation of COVID-19 is evolving daily and we are, unfortunately, seeing impacts on our community escalating.

“Local government works at the grassroots level and sees firsthand the massive impacts on families, young people, small businesses and our local economy as they navigate this new world.”

Mayor Matthews said it was critical that Council received adequate funding and resources to co-ordinate and deliver services as it navigated through and recovered from natural disasters and the new challenges presented by COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the State Opposition has branded the package as being “too late” for many councils, after weeks of uncertainty for local governments and local government workers.

Shadow Minister for Local Government, Greg Warren, raised serious concerns that $250M, the vast majority of funding in the package, was to be allocated as loans to councils instead of direct funding for shovel ready projects.

“Instead of being proactive when councils were first looking for assistance and leadership, the government has been reactive, and in the meantime, councils have been forced to stop projects, cut services, lose money and let staff go,” Warren said.

“Now, after what is effectively the third crisis faced by councils and their communities, including prolonged drought and bushfires, the government has generously asked councils to pay back this supposed stimulus, with interest.

“A greater debt burden will not see the local government sector emerge successfully from the coronavirus crisis,” Warren said.

However, Local Government NSW President, Linda Scott, said the package would drive economic recovery in every corner of NSW and save essential services.

“As the only state government to have provided councils with economic support of this magnitude, the NSW Government has ensured that our state will lead the economic recovery from COVID-19,” Scott said.

Source:
Meeting & Media statement, Apr 27 & 29
Agenda item 2.1
Central Coast Council
Media releases, Apr 27
Parliamentary Secretary Central Coast, Adam Crouch
Shadow Minister for Local Government, Greg Warren.
Reporters: Terry Collins,
Merilyn Vale