Council calls for government cash

Latrobe City Council wants a more “consistent source” of income for local government.

It will use the Municipal Association of Victoria State Council meeting on 23 October to call on the state and Commonwealth to provide such income.

Deputy mayor Peter Gibbons said basic assets like footpaths, gutters and roads were in need of replacement, but ratepayers alone could not carry this burden.

“The assets we’ve got today weren’t just paid by ratepayers in the 50s and 60s, both state and federal governments allowed for grants and loans to be given to local government so that they could then put in place all that infrastructure that was required,” Cr Gibbons said.

“It’s the whole of these building assets we’ve got in the city that gradually need to be upgraded or kept in a standard acceptable to the community.

“We can’t do it by ourselves. We’ve got about $1 billion in assets, we just can’t do it with ratepayer money (alone).”

Council will submit a motion to the MAV state council meeting that it call on state and federal governments to “provide a more equitable and reliable source of revenue, which will provide a consistent source of income for local government”.

This would be in a bid to reduce an “infrastructure backlog” and enhance current infrastructure and expenditure programs to “keep pace with depreciation and community need”.

Cr Graeme Middlemiss said while the State Government was talking about capping rates, it was simultaneously asking councils to “bear more and more costs”.

“If you go through the history of infrastructure of the Valley, every major bridge has been built with state or federal grants. Now governments are saying ‘you pay the full cost for replacement’, they’re quietly stepping back from responsibilities they’ve had for 100 years,” Cr Middlemiss said.

He said programs like Meals on Wheels were funded by the state, but only at a fixed amount and when staffing and materials costs went up each year, councils had to pay the difference.

According to council’s 2015/16 budget, 56 per cent of council’s income will come from rates and charges, 19 per cent will come from operating grants from the state and federal governments, and eight per cent will come from capital grants from state and federal governments and community sources.

A State Government spokesperson said Federal Government cuts to financial assistance grants would cost Victorian councils $200 million.

“We are putting more money into regional and rural councils through an increase in their allocations of library funding and Roadside Weeds and Pests funding, as well as the new Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund,” the spokesperson said

“The fund has dedicated funding streams for our regional cities and we’d encourage Latrobe City Council to make use of this support.”

The spokesperson said rate-capping was “not about cuts to services or infrastructure”, rather increasing accountability and “giving local residents a greater say”.

“If a council can show that they have consulted with their community, and listened to the needs of local ratepayers, they will be able to seek exemption.”

Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester cited work with the South Boolarra Landcare Group on its Green Army projects and the Princes Highway duplication between Traralgon and Sale as some local projects the government had supported.

“Latrobe City Council is expected to receive $11.4 million in federal assistance in the next financial year, plus an early payment that has been brought forward,” Mr Chester said.

“While the Financial Assistance Grants were frozen until 2017 due to the federal budget deficit, regional councils like Latrobe City have been compensated by increases in their Roads to Recovery program.”

He said Latrobe had been allocated $10.9 million under this program and about $250,000 under the federal Black Spots program for road safety improvements at Derhams Lane, Morwell and Franklin Street, Traralgon.

“In the past financial year (2014-15), Federal Government funding was allocated to help reconstruct sections of Airfield Road, Traralgon and June Street, Morwell,” Mr Chester said.

“The Federal Government’s $300 million Bridges Renewal program is available exclusively to local government and Latrobe City Council is eligible to apply.”

Mr Chester said Latrobe City had been invited to apply for funding under the Coalition’s National Stronger Regions Fund, which provides $1 billion over five years to fund priority infrastructure in regional communities.

“Latrobe City Council did not make an application for funding under rounds one and two of the NSRF, however I intend to do everything I can to assist the council receive funding when it is ready to apply,” Mr Chester said.