Un­freeze plea

Coun­cil wants grant in­dex­a­tion re­stored this year

Southern Riverina news - - FRONT PAGE - By Kacee John­ston

Fund­ing vi­tal to the way lo­cal coun­cils sup­port their com­mu­ni­ties must be re­stored in the up­com­ing fi­nan­cial year.

That is the mes­sage Ber­ri­gan Shire Coun­cil is send­ing to the Fed­eral Govern­ment, which put a freeze on in­dex­a­tion of Fi­nan­cial As­sis­tance Grants in 2014.

Ber­ri­gan Shire Mayor Matthew Hannan said the funds play an im­por­tant role in help­ing coun­cil pro­vide vi­tal ser­vices and in­fra­struc­ture for the com­mu­nity.

He said that is why the Com­mon­wealth Govern­ment is now be­ing urged to hon­our its prom­ise to re­store in­dex­a­tion in the 2017-18 Fed­eral Bud­get.

To date the lo­cal govern­ment sec­tor has re­ceived no firm guar­an­tee it will oc­cur.

‘‘The un­tied Fi­nan­cial As­sis­tance Grants are an im­por­tant part of our rev­enue base, al­low­ing us to pro­vide and main­tain the shire’s lo­cal com­mu­nity in­fra­struc­ture such as the town en­trance and main street beau­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­grams in Fin­ley and Tocumwal and the on­go­ing pro­vi­sion of shade sails over chil­dren’s play­grounds,’’ Cr Hannan said.

‘‘The Com­mon­wealth’s de­ci­sion in the 2014 Fed­eral Bud­get to freeze in­dex­a­tion of this val­ued fund­ing means Ber­ri­gan Shire Coun­cil has re­ceived a re­duced level of grants for the past three years.

‘‘I has put a no­tice­able dent in our cash flow and is im­pact­ing on the ser­vices we’re able to pro­vide to our com­mu­nity.

‘‘The Aus­tralian Govern­ment pre­vi­ously com­mit­ted to re­store in­dex­a­tion in this year’s Fed­eral Bud­get and the Ber­ri­gan Shire Coun­cil and com­mu­nity will hold them to their prom­ise.

‘‘Politi­cians in Can­berra must re­store in­dex­a­tion of the grants so Ber­ri­gan Shire Coun­cil can meet our com­mu­nity’s de­mand for ser­vices and pro­vide the level and qual­ity of ser­vice that they de­serve.’’

Ber­ri­gan Shire gen­eral man­ager Rowan Perkins said the in­dex­a­tion freeze on grants has al­ready cost the shire $250,000 in fund­ing.

He said that money will never be re­couped, and the coun­cil can­not af­ford to en­dure fur­ther losses.

As well as a push from in­di­vid­ual coun­cils, the wider Lo­cal Govern­ment NSW mem­ber­ship is also calling for the restora­tion of in­dex­a­tion.

LGNSW pres­i­dent Keith Rhoades said col­lec­tively, the Ab­bott Govern­ment’s de- ci­sion has ‘‘al­ready ripped al­most $260 mil­lion from New South Wales coun­cils over three years’’.

‘‘The three-year freeze has had a harsh im­pact on NSW coun­cils — and that im­pact is on­go­ing, be­cause the freeze has re­sulted in a per­ma­nent base re­duc­tion of around 13 per cent,’’ he said.

Cr Rhoades said the freeze had been par­tic­u­larly tough on NSW coun­cils, which are be­ing squeezed from all sides by rate-cap­ping and cost-shift­ing by both the state and fed­eral gov­ern­ments, val­ued at roughly $600 mil­lion per an­num.

At the same time NSW coun­cils have been asked to prove their fi­nan­cial fit­ness or face forcible amal­ga­ma­tion, he said.

‘‘It’s ex­actly these sort of fi­nan­cial con­straints that make it al­most im­pos­si­ble for coun­cils to get ahead,’’ he said.

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