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Country councils hit out over Victorian government flood works funding proposals

The morning after: Charlton’s historic Rex Theatre stands in flood waters in September 2010. Photo: Justin McManus A regional council has delivered a spray to the Andrews government over funding responsibilities, urging it not to lump the costs of flood mitigation works on to regional ratepayers.
Nanjing Night Net

The criticism from the mayor of Bendigo, Peter Cox, comes as the state government maintains support for its cap on council rate rises, a measure that would restrict the ability of councils to raise revenue.

And the mayor of the small country shire of Buloke, Reid Mather, has warned that a new proposal – under which flood mitigation infrastructure costs would be split equally between the three tiers of government – was “unsustainable” for the Buloke community.

“We don’t have the capacity to raise a third, nor would we have the capacity to do ongoing maintenance. And I guess that would see our community miss out,” Cr Mather said.

“The structural funding that comes from state and federal governments to small rural councils is just inadequate for them to take on any significant infrastructure costs going forward,” he said.

The Buloke town of Charlton was severely hit by the January 2011 floods, with significant water through businesses and houses, causing at least tens of millions of dollars in damage.

Bendigo’s Cr Cox was commenting on a proposed strategy for dealing with flood plain management recently released by the state environment and water department. “It is nonsensical to be on the one hand demanding a rate cap while on the other proposing to shift significant costs onto local government. The council urges the government to reconsider,” he said.

Cr Cox said he was “an advocate for lower council rates” and supported the Andrews government’s rates cap policy. “So I am pretty disappointed that the state government is considering asking local government to take on extra cost burdens at this time. It is not fair and it risks alienating the very people who have been supporting the government’s drive to keep costs down,” he said.

The proposed rules could potentially cost his council “millions of dollars”, he said. Bendigo has about 12 kilometres of levee bank on the east side of Bendigo Creek. Cr Cox believes the levee, built 100 or so years ago, was funded by the state.

The flood plain report proposes that regional councils equally share the cost of “new and existing regional urban flood mitigation infrastructure” with the state and federal governments. Councils would then need to manage the infrastructure.

Currently, it is not mandatory for regional councils to pay for such infrastructure, and opinions vary on who is responsible for it.

The Age understands that there are very old levee banks that were funded by the state, private contributors and in some cases councils. And there are modern examples of country councils contributing towards the cost of town levee banks.

A spokeswoman for Environment Minister Lisa Neville said that it was historical practice in Victoria for the different tiers of government to share the costs of flood protection.

“The Victorian government is committed to working with the Commonwealth, the City of Greater Bendigo and the wider community to achieve the best outcome for flood mitigation and the Bendigo levee,” she said.

“The Victorian flood strategy was reopened by the Victorian government for further consideration. Council are welcome to provide input into this process. The government recently provided $250,000 to the City of Greater Bendigo to undertake a study into upgrading Bendigo’s levee,” she said.

The flood plain report warned that the “floods of 2010-12 revealed serious deficiencies in the management arrangements for flood mitigation infrastructure outside Melbourne”. The report also said that about 900 kilometres of rural levees situated on Crown land were “not currently being maintained.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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