Vic councils sandbag against flood levee cost shifting

City of Parkville sandbagging efforts June 2011

By Paul Hemsley

Victoria’s City of Greater Bendigo is digging in for a fight to prevent the state government from shifting responsibility for flood levee bank funding from the Catchment Management Authorities onto local governments.

The council has announced is investigating the formation of a lobbying alliance with other municipalities to oppose any potential state government plans to make local governments pay for levee bank infrastructure in flood prone areas.

The affected councils are planning to write to Premier Denis Napthine as well as the Deputy Premier, the Minister for Local Government, the Minister for Agriculture and Food Security, the Minister for Environment and Climate Change and local members of state parliament in an attempt to head off the cost impost.

The City of Greater Bendigo’s call to arms has follows Minister for Water Peter Walsh’s response to the Environment and Natural Resources Committee inquiry into flood mitigation infrastructure.

The Inquiry concluded that there was a “need to overcome uncertainty concerning responsibilities for levee ownership and maintenance and for the management”.

That recommendation led to Mr Walsh’s decision in October 2013 that “regional Victoria local councils are best placed to manage levees on behalf of their communities”.

The big issue now is who will pay for levee management, with councils crying poor.

Greater Bendigo’s prominent stand in the looming anti-cost shifting campaign is predictable given its history coping with extreme wet weather events including the March and September 2010 flash floods.

That unexpected inundation resulted in the Bendigo Urban Flood Study being initiated in July 2011 by the North Central Catchment Management Authority (NCCMA) to produce updated flood maps that can eventually be incorporated into the Greater Bendigo Planning Scheme.

The City of Greater Bendigo cited the Municipal Association of Victoria’s (MAV) breakdown of the state government’s decision, which said that the inquiry’s recommendations and the government’s subsequent response “signal a significant shift of responsibility and cost from Catchment Management Authorities to councils on the basis of a ‘beneficiary pays’ principle”.

“The MAV describes this principle as an emerging State Government direction that the beneficiaries of certain infrastructure should pay, potentially through council rates,” a release from the City of Bendigo said.

City of Greater Bendigo Mayor Barry Lyons is now trying to hose down any state and federal government attempt to burden ratepayers with added costs.

“It is becoming all too common for both sides of politics to shift responsibility onto local government without providing adequate funding support. Ultimately, this leads to higher rates for residents and that is not fair,” Mr Lyons said.

He said if the City is forced to take funding responsibility for levee banks, then the “cost burden will be significant and ongoing”.

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