The 2019-20 NSW State Budget has delivered a welcome increase in drought funding, more money for public libraries and regional roads and bridges, the local government sector said.
But the praise was not unmitigated, with peak body Local Government NSW (LGNSW) identifying a number of areas which remain either unfunded or underfunded, with concerning flow-on effects to councils and the communities they serve.
“The 2019-20 NSW Budget certainly contains some good news for local government, with a range of pre-election commitments to the sector being met,” LGNSW President Linda Scott said.
“Local governments are pleased the State Government has listened to our advocacy by committing to an additional $355 million in drought assistance.
“Drought assistance will make a real difference, and local governments have a key role to play in working as a trusted partner with the State to deliver this support.
“Local government also welcome the programmed $1 billion funding to fix local roads and timber bridges.
“It’s unfortunate that only $25 million per program has been allocated for the next financial year, because it’s unlikely a total of $50 million will make any real inroads into the maintenance backlog.
“However, we look forward to much greater investment in these programs in subsequent years.
“Councils particularly welcome the additional $12 million in funding for council-run public libraries; a 55% increase in funding this year (2019).
“These funding boosts are all good news for councils and the communities they serve, and I thank the Government for responding to advocacy by the local government sector.”
However, Clr Scott highlighted four key areas in which the Government had fallen short:
- Failure to effectively respond to the growing waste crisis by reinvesting the Waste Levy – which now stands at $772 million per year – in a coordinated state-wide approach to drive down waste generation and move the NSW economy to a circular economy
- No transitional funding to smooth the Government’s shock transfer to councils of an additional $19 million in annual contributions to the Emergency Services Levy (ESL)
- Insufficient funding to help councils comply with the Government’s new requirement that they prepare plans for Crown lands under their management
- No specific allocation to support the development of Joint Organisations of councils.
“The $19 million Emergency Services Levy contribution, and the lack of funding to help councils meet the Governments demands for Crown land management, are clear cases of blatant cost shifting from state to local governments,” Clr Scott said.
“Our latest study put the cost shifting hit on councils at $820 million per year, and that was before these fresh new cost shifts were revealed.
“Councils just don’t have, and cannot raise, sufficient revenue to fund these new Government demands and responsibilities – which means the end result impacts on the community through reduced infrastructure and services.
“The NSW Minister for Local Government has been very responsive, and we are will continue to support her advocacy to call on her Government colleagues to find a resolution to these issues.”
Clr Scott said the Budget papers revealed Waste Levy revenue for 2018-19 had increased to $772 million, with further forecast average growth of 0.9% p.a. from 2018-19 to 2022-23.
“The levy can only go up if more waste is being produced, which shows the Government expects the current waste crisis to get worse,” she said.
“The State’s current approach is not working and needs to change, starting with a strategy and repurposing of the waste levy – something councils have been urging for more than a year.
“The State Government must act to reinvest the Levy in its true purpose, and start the move to a circular economy that will provide long-term economic, social and environmental benefits for NSW.”
Clr Scott said the Budget also made no specific budget allocation for Joint Organisations of council – part of the broader local government reform package supposed to deliver benefits of scale.
“The local government sector has largely embraced the introduction of Joint Organisations, but these can only prosper with funding,” she said.
“The initial seed funding provided by Government was never going to be enough to establish these bodies in a viable and effective way, and we have been advocating for recurrent funding from the very beginning.
“We understand the NSW Government is still finalising a new funding model for JOs and we are hopeful that the active approach taken by the new Minister for Local Government will drive a positive outcome to this challenge.”