Stimulus funding helping councils, but rates reform critical to long term recovery

Stimulus funding coming out of last November’s State Budget has helped NSW councils’ efforts to drive a locally led economic recovery for their communities, but the NSW Government must not take its foot off the pedal to achieve long term improvements, including the introduction of much-needed rate reform.

Local Government NSW (LGNSW) President Linda Scott said this week’s half yearly review of the 2020-21 State Budget showed the association’s advocacy efforts for stimulus spending had thus far paid off, with a range of infrastructure and community funding.

“I am pleased LGNSW was able to help win a range of stimulus funding from the Government in the Budget,” Cr Scott said.

“But stimulus funding must be maintained and even increased in the 2021-22 Budget to ensure the trend continues in what continues to be a time of uncertainty.

“And beyond that, rate reform is desperately needed. Stimulus spending comes and goes, but it is rates that enable councils to provide the infrastructure and services their communities need.”

This week’s Budget review shows that thus far the State Government has:

  • Provided more than 90,000 grants to small businesses affected by COVID-19.
  • Supported 10,000 businesses through the Business Connect program.
  • Initiated a $1500 digital voucher scheme (totaling up to $472 million) to support small businesses with the cost of government fees and charges, to roll out in April 2021.
  • Rolled out stage one of the $500 million Dine & Discover program supporting local businesses in The Rocks, Broken Hill, Northern Beaches, Sydney CBD and Bega Valley, with the Statewide rollout commencing in March 2021.

“Following LGNSW advocacy, the NSW Government has confirmed that council-run venues will be eligible to participate in the voucher program, which is terrific news for those councils that run so many of NSW’s theatres, galleries, and arts and cultural venues,” Cr Scott said.

“These funding outcomes, along with the Government’s partnership with the City of Sydney to revitalise the city as a great global destination through the 24-hour Economy Strategy that will boost businesses and create new jobs, are good, but councils are still fighting an uphill battle.

“There is much promised in the Budget that is still to be delivered, especially relating to councils that are seeking to lead their communities out of a devastating season of drought, fires, floods and a pandemic.”

Cr Scott said LGNSW had called on the Government to revitalise how rates were determined through its Local Government Amendment (Rates) Bill that will be introduced into the NSW Parliament next month, to ensure councils could continue to deliver core infrastructure and services effectively beyond special State Budget project grants.

“Rate pegging is crippling councils and must be removed,” Cr Scott said.

“According to the Government’s own NSW Productivity Commission, cumulative negative impacts of over 40 years of rate pegging include an estimated $15 billion in rate revenue forgone when compared to Victoria.

“We have called on government to end this antiquated method of determining rates, as well as a range of other reforms such as allowing councils to recover Emergency Services Levy independent of rates and overhauling rate exemption rules.

“These actions are just as vital as budgetary support and we look forward to working with the Government to come up with meaningful and effective solutions.”

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