Woeful Local Road Backlog An Election Issue Say Mayors

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Northern Rivers mayors are putting local road funding on the Federal Election agenda, with some saying fixing the broken road funding model would ‘swing votes’ in the marginal seat of Page.

It was revealed this week that the combined infrastructure backlog across the region stood at $155 million, and growing by about $9 million each year.

Some councils have also been accused of under reporting their figures to avoid a ‘bad look’ during the NSW Government’s merger-focused Fit for the Future reforms, suggesting the true figure is higher.
h1. Biggest issue for Kyogle

Kyogle Mayor Danielle Mulholland said fixing the infrastructure backlog was the biggest issue facing her constituents, and one impacting social equality.

The council has an estimated roads backlog of $34.3 million, rising in at an estimated $4 million per year.

Cr Mulholland said root and branch reform of the funding model was needed to make it more “needs-based”.

“Anybody who fixes the damn funding model will get my vote,” Cr Mulholland said.

Cr Mulholland said higher density regional areas like Port Macquarie were better placed to appeal for more funding per capita.

“Some of those councils can afford a dedicated grants officer, we can’t,” she said.

“We’re not competing on an even playing field, we are not playing on equal terms.

“We have to be more creative in how we managed our finances, and we have to lobby harder.

“It would be fantastic if the Federal Government and State Government would come together and say they’re going to contribute $5 million each per year each year for five years,” she said.

“Infrastructure backlog gone.”

Daily Road Usage in Lismore

In Lismore – which was has an estimated backlog of $88 million across its huge 1200km road network – Mayor Jenny Dowell said one of the biggest issues was daily road usage by non-ratepayers.

With Lismore the employment capital of the region, it sees a “net gain” of 3500 vehicles each day coming in from outside the LGA, from Ballina, Byron Shire, and Casino.

“Australia has something like 100 taxes, and local government has access to one of them (rates),” Cr Dowell said.

Councils do receive vital funding from a number of Federal programs, including the Roads to Recovery program, annual Financial Assistance Grants, and special black spot funding for crash-prone areas.

In 2015-16, Lismore’s roads budget was $31.7 million, with the Federal and State Government each committing a third of funding, and ratepayers accounting for the final third.

For Lismore City’s planned 2016-17 spend of $37.5 million, the Federal and State contribution is anticipated to be proportionally higher, sitting at about 36% or $13.5 million.

“The trend in recent years has been for increasing grants and contributions from the Federal and State Governments for council’s roads budget,” Lismore City Council finance manager Rino Santin said.

“For example, the Roads to Recovery (Federal) funding has increased significantly from $882,000 in 2014/15 to an anticipated $2.985 million in 2016/17,” Mr Santin said.

Asked if the Federal Government could do more, Cr Dowell said yes.

“The fundamental issue is the cost to repair roads is going up at a faster rate than our ability to raise rates,” she said.

“The CPI construction price index is around 6% per year – which includes the cost of materials and labour combined – whereas Lismore’s rate peg is 1.8%,” she said.

“If any of the candidates would like to give us a big gift, our community would be very grateful,” she said.

“We are talking about lives.”

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