Budget boon for NSW councils

By Adam Coleman

NSW Treasurer Eric Roozendaal has delivered the 2009-2010 Budget, which includes a $35 million Community Partnerships Program and $200 million in interest-free loans to help local councils fund community infrastructure projects.

The Community Partnerships Program outlined in the budget aims to support local jobs, stimulate growth and improve community facilities in NSW with the provision of $300,000 to each of the state’s 93 electoral districts. An additional $100,000 will be made available for districts with higher unemployment.

The budget also includes a Local Infrastructure Fund, which will provide $200 million in interest free loans to enable councils to bring forward new investment in local infrastructure.

President of the Local Government Association, Genia McCaffery, said  the Local Infrastructure Fund will help speed up the delivery of water, sewerage, drainage and road infrastructure to needy communities.

“The Associations have long called for the government to provide councils with interest free loans to help fund essential infrastructure projects, so this is definitely a win for us,” Cr McCaffery said.

“These optional loans can eventually be paid off by the development contributions and I expect that many councils will take advantage of this new opportunity.

“At this stage, the program is offered for one year only, and depending on the number of councils that apply, we may call for an extension.”

President of the Shires Association, Bruce Miller, said he was pleased the government had committed to maintaining funding for crucial programs already in place for Local Government.

“Today’s budget has a strong focus on building and stimulating the economy, and we look forward to working with the government to help create jobs and maintain crucial infrastructure for our local communities,” Cr Miller said.

“It’s good to see that even in these tough economic times, funding for key programs such as regional roads maintenance, the Country Towns Water Supply and Sewerage Program and public libraries are still in place, even if not substantially increased.”

The budget also outlined an investment of $92.7 million to ‘strengthen’ the state’s local government sector.

Minister for Local Government Barbara Perry said: “This Budget allocation is aimed at promoting a strong and accountable local government sector in NSW.”

Pensioners were among the main funding targets, with $76 million allocated to the Pensioner Council Rates Rebate Scheme.

Perry said the Pensioner Council Rates Rebate Scheme “provides important assistance to pensioners around NSW, helping relieve the burden of council rates”

The State Government also dedicated $6.2 million to the administration of the Companion Animals Act.

“Local councils play a vital role in helping enforce the Companion Animals Act,” Perry said.

“These funds will be used to help them manage pets in our community.”

The budget detailed $10.4 million to “continue key services provided by the Department of Local Government” and outlined several management areas where the funding will be concentrated, including:

  • Better Practice Reviews of councils and monitoring of council finances;
  • Developing and implementing the proposed Integrated Planning and Reporting Framework;
  • Facilitating strategic cooperation between councils;
  • Providing advice on a broad range of local government issues such as community engagement, workforce planning and skills shortages; and
  • Improving legislation and producing circulars and guidelines for councils.

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