‘Strong sense of opportunities missed’ in NSW budget, councils say

NSW councils say there is much to praise about this week’s state budget, but also many missed opportunities.

Viewed as a whole, the state budget aligns with peak body Local Government NSW’s Pre-Budget Submission, the peak body says.  

Darriea Turley

It does this by recognising the need to strengthen community infrastructure, services and systems, however, LGNSW says more funding is needed for roads and to enable financial sustainability for councils.

“If there is much to praise in the State Government’s 2022-23 Budget, there is also a strong sense of opportunities missed,” the peak body said in a newsletter to subscribers.

“In some areas we are pleased that the government has recognised and responded to unmet need.  

“And in others – most notably road funding, which is the biggest ticket budget item for local government – it’s disappointing that funding remains roughly on par with previous years.”

Councils were looking for funding to reduce the $1.7 billion road and infrastructure maintenance backlog, but budget funding “falls well short of this expectation”, LGNSW says.

A total of $201.2 million will go towards various regional transport programs, Bridges for the Bush, an upgrade and replacement program, will receive $153 million under Restart NSW and $1.93 million will be allocated over two years towards the upgrades of priority regional roads.

More needed to improve financial sustainability

LGNSW says there is little in the budget to help improve the financial sustainability of local government in NSW.

“Disappointingly, the government has refused to fund rate concessions for those suffering from hardship as the result of natural disasters such as the Black Summer bushfires or recent floods.

“Instead, the Budget proposes $80 million for a working capital fund to provide concessional loans to councils impacted by natural disaster.”

A further $78.5 million, a total of $314 million over four years, has been set aside to continue the existing funding arrangements for pensioner rate rebates.

“This is a missed opportunity to improve the living standards of NSW pensioners and leaves NSW the only state that does not fully fund rate rebates to this population group,” LGNSW says.

Circular economy solutions

However, councils welcome the budget allocation of $52.4 million to support the transition to sustainable materials and reduced carbon emissions.

“While we do not resile from our longstanding call on the NSW government to reinvest the entirety of the $800 million revenue received from the Waste Levy into innovative solutions to these challenges, we do welcome the Budget allocation of $52.4 million to support the transition to sustainable materials and reduced carbon emissions.”

The funding, which was announced last year, will be used to implement the NSW Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy 2041 and NSW Plastics Action Plan.

What the government is excited about

  • $80 million for a working capital fund to provide concessional loans to councils when residents are unable to repay rates due to hardship
  • More than $78 million in 2022-23 to help councils ease cost-of-living pressures for pensioners with discounts on rates and charges
  • $43 million paid in 2021-22 to councils to fully offset the 2022-23 increase in the Emergency Services Levy
  • More than $22 million over three years to boost Our Coast, Our Future technical support and grants for implementation of coastal management programs
  • $6 million from the Companion Animals Fund for councils to manage pet cats and dogs,
  • $6 million to support Lismore Council with reconstruction and transformation programs
  • $3 million for the Local Infrastructure Renewal Scheme to help councils pay for loans for upgrades and maintenance of infrastructure
  • $3 million to fund charitable organisations, including $2.5 million to RSPCA NSW and $500,000 to Sydney Dogs and Cats Home.

What councils are excited about

  • $369.6 million to ongoing financial and technical support in town water supply projects
  • $19.8 million funding to plan for the State’s water future through the NSW Water Strategy, particularly the plan’s set of initiatives to deliver the first Aboriginal Water Strategy for NSW
  • $2.4 million for the Smart Regional Spaces partnership with two Sydney universities, designed to support 91 councils as part of the Smart Cities Strategy
  • $93.7 million allocation to deliver the Climate Change Adaption Strategy
  • $149.2 million additional funding in the Accelerated Infrastructure Fund, including $120 million to help deliver the roads, transport, water and sewer infrastructure needed to unlock new housing in regional areas

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