Council has criticised proposed cuts to disaster funding from the Federal Government which would have a devastating impact on the Douglas Shire.
Mayor Julia Leu and CEO Linda Cardew presented a submission last week at a hearing of the Productivity Commission which in September suggested the Federal Government significantly reduce its contribution to repairing damaged infrastructure in its draft report on disaster relief funding.
Currently the Federal Government contributes 75 per cent and the State Government 25 per cent to National Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements to fund the repair of eligible infrastructure, with the Productivity Commission recommending this be reduced to 50 per cent.
Local governments would be required to make up the shortfall, and with more than $14 million of damage assessed for the Douglas Shire for two declared disaster events in 2014 alone the implications for ratepayers would be disastrous.
“Shifting this cost to us and other local government areas prone to cyclones, flooding and storm surge could potentially wipe us out,” Mayor Leu said.
“Unlike many outback towns where the main road network is managed and maintained by the State Government, the rural and remote communities within the Douglas Shire are almost entirely reliant on 373km of local road network for which Council is responsible.
“Over 300km of these roads are located in rural areas, with 150km of roads located in remote areas with extreme terrain, numerous creek crossings and bridges.
“If the Productivity Commission’s recommendation for the reduction in funding is adopted, Council simply will not be able to meet the cost of the restoration of its essential public infrastructure on an ongoing basis.”
Under the Productivity Commission’s proposal, a shortfall of $4 million equates to a 15.25 per cent increase in rates per year over the two-year period allowed for reconstruction.
“A rate rise of that magnitude purely to repair damaged infrastructure, at a time when communities are often dealing with decimating losses to agriculture and tourism, is completely unfeasible,” Mayor Leu said.
“The consequences of significant funding shortfalls for Douglas Shire would be an inevitable fiscal decline leading to a financially unsustainable Council and/or the isolation or extinguishment of remote settlements over time.”
Mayor Leu urged the Federal Government to implement savings to the NDRRA model by allowing councils to use their own labour instead of the requirement for contractors as well as a reduction in the layers of bureaucracy which results in significant additional costs and prolongs repairs.
“The employees of Douglas Shire Council, as with other rural councils in Far North Queensland, are practical, down-to-earth locals who understand, live and work with local conditions and extreme weather events,” Mayor Leu said.
“They bring a special knowledge to the management of disaster-related works that in turn promotes efficiency and value for money because they know what works and what doesn’t.
“It is common sense to allow them to carry out restoration works in remote areas.
“Douglas Shire Council would welcome the provision of clear and concise information, unambiguous policies, funding certainty, and funding support to achieve those measures that will make communities more resilient in future.
“These include flood mapping data and technology, support with strategic and development planning, recognition of the logistics and costs required to delivering the works, and recognition that councils are highly motivated and better placed than other levels of government to prioritise and deliver these works for their communities.”
To read the full submission from Douglas Shire Council to the Productivity Commission on natural disaster funding arrangements click HERE