NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole has trumpeted a “record investment” in local government in the NSW Budget of $700 million.
NSW local councils must have collectively salivated as Mr Baird revealed the state’s coffers were overflowing, registering a $3.7 billion in surplus in 2016-2017 and predicting further hefty surpluses averaging $2 billion a year over the next four years.
The budget included a $590 million over two years for merged councils, which has been already been announced multiple times.
This is made up of $10 million per new metropolitan council towards merger costs and $15 million for community infrastructure. Regional councils, receive $5 million per merger and $10 from the Stronger Communities Fund.
Mr Toole said: “This record investment underpins the most comprehensive local government reform seen in NSW in more than 100 years.
“The NSW Government’s plan to create stronger new councils in Sydney and regional NSW will be supported by a Budget investment of $590 million over two years.
“We are ensuring our communities have stronger and more efficient councils, which will free up money for important projects such as local roads, parks, playgrounds and footpaths,” Mr Toole said.
But local government may not view the cash so much as a windfall but an offer to pick up only part of the tab for cost of forced council mergers.
Another budget line item was $16 million for councils through the Local Infrastructure Renewal Scheme. The Scheme provides interest rate subsidises so that councils can afford to take out major bank loans to maintain and renew existing infrastructure.
Mr Toole said: “The NSW Government’s infrastructure renewal scheme has seen 166 council projects approved for an interest subsidy, unlocking more than $800 million in investment of local infrastructure, two thirds of which is for regional and rural councils.”
Pensioners will benefit from a $79 million boost to the Pensioners Rebate Scheme, subsidising council rates and charges for pensioners. Regional and rural councils who are not merging are targeted with the offer of $14 million for Joint Organisations and into the existing Innovation Fund, which can be used to improve services and infrastructure.
Dog and cat lovers of NSW will also rejoice in a budget allocation of $1.5 million over two years to create an online dog and cat register.
But the budget measures had their detractors.
Greens MP and Local Government Spokesperson David Shoebridge said Mr Baird was spending $590 million “to sack councils, remove democracy and appoint handpicked administrators.”
“While the Coalition has been bleating about an alleged saving of $2 billion over the next 20 years, 30 per cent of these supposed savings will be blown in just two years.
“It is clear that NSW taxpayers would be far better off with their local, elected councillors than paying $590 million for unelected and unwanted Administrators.”
Local Government NSW, the peak body for local councils in NSW, will be commenting soon.
More to follow.
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