Council calls on State to honour promise for storm clean-up support
Published on 07 October 2021
Yarra Ranges Council has called on the State Government to provide clarity and certainty regarding its promise for funding support to clean-up from the June flood and storm event, as the municipality continues to count the enormous cost of the damage.
Council has written to Emergency Services Minister Jaclyn Symes to outline its concerns that despite multiple discussions, pleas and business cases put forward, Council is so far being left by State Government bodies to pay the price of the massive clean-up alone.
Yarra Ranges Mayor Councillor Fiona McAllister said Council had fast tracked some of the work required to clean up on the understanding that State Government was behind them and would provide financial support after the devastating storm and flood.
“With such extensive storm and flood damage, a looming fire season and the need to prepare for the reopening of Victoria in November after tough COVID19 restrictions, we’ve just gotten on with the job,” Cr McAllister said.
“Generally, costs for these works have always been recoverable from natural disaster funding, but our growing concern is we are yet to receive confirmation the funds we have spent will be reimbursed and that further funding to support the myriad of other recovery works will be provided.
“It’s no secret that the savage June 9 storm and flood was like nothing the State has seen before in terms of the scale of loss and damage, and the complexities of clean-up efforts.
“It’s important for our communities to see progress and to feel assured of support for a more positive future. While Council has gotten on with the clean-up with communities and started the recovery planning process, the impacts of such a large and devastating event are well beyond our resourcing and financial capacity.
“While Bushfire Recovery Victoria’s dangerous tree and case manager programs provided much needed support to residents who had experienced significant damage to their homes as a result of the storms, these programs have really only dealt with a small fraction of the carnage from the storm.
“We require significant assistance from both the State and Federal Government, and we need confirmation around what assistance will be made available.”
Cr McAllister said local government played a central role in supporting communities during and in aftermath of an emergency with agencies and government departments, however Council could not cover the costs for an event of this magnitude.
Council continued to discuss funding possibilities with the State Government in good faith, but required clarity and certainty so Council could plan for the municipality’s longer-term future.
Estimates captured in Council’s draft Financial Plan are that the recovery effort will cost approximately $55 million.
Council can claim certain costs under the State and Federal Government Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements. Council has estimated it will receive support of around $28 million under the joint disaster recovery arrangements. This would still leave Council $27 million out of pocket.
However, this has not been confirmed and the delayed nature of the reimbursements puts Council at risk of depleting cash reserves. Council has already incurred significant costs.
Cr McAllister said that without a firm commitment from the State Government around what financial contribution there was available towards the storm response and recovery, it was difficult to quantify what the funding gap would be.
“To date, Council has only had confirmation of $3.5 million in funding from the Council Support Fund to fund positions within the Recovery Directorate,” she said.
Cr McAllister said with the challenges of the storm recovery coupled with the effects of the pandemic, the municipality’s long-term financial sustainability was dependent on securing financial support.
“This disaster came on top of successive pandemic-related lockdowns that have had enormous impacts on businesses and communities,” she said.
“Without support, we will need to make some difficult decisions to either reduce operational and capital expenditure so that we can deliver recovery outcomes, or we need to reduce what we deliver in the recovery space.
“The storm may be over, but the clean-up is not, and the current level of support offered is not tenable or financially sustainable for Yarra Ranges.
“With another fire season looming, we need the State Government to commit to its promise of clean-up support, and to provide Council and the community with clarity, certainty and confidence that we won’t be left behind.”
Page image courtesy of Amber Williams Photography, depicting the aftermath of the 9 June storms.