Tuesday, 31 May 2016 11:46

Road backlog shows funding review overdue

Local road in new housing estate. Local road in new housing estate.

The Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC) has called for a more innovative approach to the way local government is funded following the release of NRMA’s Funding Local Roads Report this month.

WSROC President Cllr Tony Hadchiti said we are now at the tail end of the Fit for the Future process, but in order to build the sustainable councils our state government seeks, we need to look seriously at how local government is funded in the short and long term.

“This week’s NRMA Funding Local Roads Report is just one example of what happens when we chronically underfund our local councils,” he said.

“NSW councils carry a collective $1.73 billion road repair bill, and this backlog will only grow if we do not see changes to local government revenue streams,” said Cllr Hadchiti.

“The current freeze on federal Financial Assistance Grants for local councils, combined with NSW’s rate pegging policy, means councils are consistently being asked to provide more with less,” he said.

“The state and federal governments have asked councils to become more sustainable, strategic and independent, whilst at the same time deterring councils from attracting additional funding through their only means of income; rates.

“IPART current review of councils’ rating system is welcome, however a more comprehensive and innovative approach to local government funding is required if we are to see sustainable change with minimal impact on residents,” said Cllr Hadchiti.

“In its report, the NRMA recommended that local councils receive a greater share of the federal government’s fuel excise to assist maintaining its 88 per cent share (164,000 kilometres) of the NSW road network.

“This is just one way the government could provide councils with the funding they need without adversely impacting on residents,” said Cllr Hadchiti.

“The need for better funding is particularly apparent in Western Sydney where rapid growth means councils are required to provide significant amounts of new infrastructure while they work to maintain existing services,” he said.

“Funding is also an issue for our less developed areas where significant amounts of flood-prone land, bushfire zones and natural reserves limit a council’s ability to achieve adequate revenue without placing undue burden on ratepayers,” said Cllr Hadchiti.

“Councils are working to maintain roads as best they can, however the growing backlog of maintenance will continue to divert funds from other local programs that improve quality of life for residents; particularly vulnerable communities.

“If we are to address the significant funding shortfalls we must be more innovative when considering how local government is funded now and into the future. This discussion must reach beyond rating systems and consider other methods of income,” said Cllr Hadchiti.