THE STATE OF OUR ROADS – DOES COUNCIL CARE?

It seems the single most significant, constant frustration and concern to the overwhelming majority of MidCoast residents and ratepayers, is the state of our roads. 

 Cr Peter Epov discussing issues relating to China with former Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove at the 100th Anniversaryof Rotary in Australia Dinner hosted by the Rotary Club of Taree.”

Whether you live on the “black snake” or have gravel, Council’s performance in maintaining roads, filling potholes, leveling the gravel, or even mowing the verges, is a constant running sore for many residents.

At the 2 June MidCoast Council meeting after some insistent probing from Cr Peter Epov, the Administration finally revealed that the much lauded $100 Million Roads Program is now at least 18 months behind schedule.

In early 2018, amidst fanfare (and backslapping amongst some Councillors and the Executive) the $100 Million Roads Program announcement was used to herald the rise of a new era and the success of the newly amalgamated Council.

Grants and Loans

The Roads program was structured around the NSW Government committing a grant of $50 million over four years to be matched by Council borrowing $50 million over the same period.

In 2017 and still under Administration, Council sought a Special Rate Variation (SRV) from IPART even though the NSW Government had promised there would be no rate increases on residents of newly amalgamated Council’s for a period of 3 years.

Following some lobbying in Macquarie Street, and a late night amendment in Parliament put up by Christian Democrat, Paul Green (who failed to be re-elected to the NSW Legislative Council in 2019), MidCoast Council was permitted to lodge the SRV with IPART.

The Approved SRV

The approved SRV provided for a cumulative increase of 27.3% over four years including the annual rate peg.

The approved percentage increase per year was:

2017/18 – 10%

2018/19 – 5%

2019/20 – 5%

2020/21 – 5%

Council’s Promise

At the time Council justified the SRV by stating on the Mid Coast Council website – “Funding provided through the SRV will be used exclusively for the express purpose of:

Addressing the $5million per year shortfall in funding for renewals of Council’s road and bridge assets.

Starting to address the asset backlog, estimated at $180million.

Harmonising and supporting an environmental program across the MidCoast region.”

So Are our Roads any Better?

Ratepayers have now been paying a progressive cumulative increase of 27.3% on our rates, but have our roads improved?

The grand announcement of the $100 Million Roads Program was announced in early 2018, but it appears Council didn’t borrow any money for the program in the 2018/19 Financial year, nor did Council receive any grant funding from the $50 million grant bucket that was sitting there, waiting to be used.

2019/20 Budget 

In the 2019/20 Budget, MCC committed to borrowing $10,182,500 million for the Roads Program, which would then be matched by a NSW Government Grant of $10,182,500 million for the year. With one month to the end of that Financial Year, Council announced it would but did not follow through on this commitment, meaning $20,365,000 million in roads works didn’t get done. Prior to this point there was no reference reported to any delays in the Program for the year. (In that same report Council did confirm that it would borrow $8 Million for Masters, now the controversial Yalawanyi Gunyah).

2020/21 Budget – This Year.

Last year in May, for this year’s (current) Budget, Council again promised to borrow $9.375 million (which would then be matched by a $9.375 million grant from the NSW Government) as part of the $100 Million Roads Program. 

But at the MidCoast Council Meeting of the 2nd of June,  just 28 days from the end of the Financial Year, without any prior reports of delays, Council decided it would only borrow $3 million of the $9.375 Million (which would be matched by the NSW Government).

Only two Councillors queried this. The rest of the herd obediently followed along.

However this $6 million would need to be spent by 30 June this year, otherwise the money would have to be ‘re-voted’ in to next year’s Budget (2021/22) where Council has yet again promised to borrow $8.625 million (which would be matched by $8.625 million from the State Grant).

Historically Low Interest Rates.

So while we have historically low interest rates, and $100 million for roads (to work with) allocated? since 2018, MCC has only committed to spending a total of $6 million of a four year program, where on average $25 million should have been spent each and every year! 

Interest rates will eventually rise and the later Council borrows money for the Roads Program, the more they will have to repay, reducing their capacity to spend more on our roads in the future.

 The next Financial Year (2021/22 ) should have been the last year of the $100 Million Roads Program, so that Council could have been applying for new and additional roads funding for the coming year.

Fanciful

Council’s claim that they will complete the $100 Million Roads Program within an additional 18 months, appears to be rather fanciful, particularly as Council has so far only committed to spending $6 million plus a further $17.3 million in the next Financial Year, leaving a surplus of $76.7 million to be spent. Based on Council’s ‘average’ unachieved commitments, plus the projection for the 2021/22 Year, it appears more likely that it will take at least three if not four more years at their current pace, to complete the program.

Shameful

It is disappointing, indeed shameful, that ratepayers and residents pay their increased rates, yet Council, with an available bucket of $100 million, is unable to get its act together to make our roads safer and life a little less stressful. 

These consequences, pointed out by Cr Epov, would undeniably reduce Council’s credibility to apply for new and additional funding. While this money has not been spent, it means we would be missing out on additional funding for our roads and the community will have to continue to endure poor quality roads – only to get stung at the tail end with loans at no doubt higher interest rates.

September 4. Choose Wisely. Change is needed. 

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