It’s the start of a new year and local councils and shires are once again evaluating their New Year wish list. It comes as no surprise that it is very similar to last year’s and the year before that, more money!
At least there has been some good news about the Financial Assistant Grants, but the contents of that bucket as it stands do not touch the sides let alone fill it up.
The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) is making good use of the protracted run up to the Federal Election producing a considered and compelling document to lobby for (among other things) a reversal of the ever dwindling money stream the Commonwealth allocates for use by councils each year.
It looks as though Local Government is serious about its campaign to return FAGS to 1 percent of Federal Funding. There has not been such a feeling of national collegiality in the sector and a sense of ‘what do we want?’ ‘1 percent’, ‘when do we want it’, ‘now!’ since Local Government’s bid for Constitutional Recognition almost made it to a referendum in 2016.
Mind you, the recycling crisis came close for a few weeks early last year but seemed to be underpinned by panic rather than determination.
While federal funding has slowed over time, the states seem on their own mission to reduce local government’s ability to stay afloat with cost shifting and rate capping eroding and limiting the rates base.
However it is the rural and regional communities that feel the pinch hardest. Whenever LG Focus asks a regional councillor what they don’t like about their job it comes down to not enough money to do justice to their community’s needs and vision.
Recent amalgamations did not provide the answer that New South Wales was looking for. Victorian Labor rode the wave of success after introducing rate capping, but has left councils in that state arguing that they are now seriously hampered in maintaining service levels and renewal projects now require new and creative investment streams to be realised. The rate cap card was used in both the South Australian and Tasmanian elections to popular appeal.
Fully funding Financial Assistance Grants to the level requested by the national and state Local Government Associations’, as well as maintaining partnership programs, could possibly be a fairer way of sharing out our taxes. It would provide a way for the states to look good to their voters for keeping councils under control and underpopulated local government areas could receive assistance to provide a level of service similar to that enjoyed by larger communities.
As the election draws closer we will be watching for responses from the various parties to see which of them are astute enough to recognise the opportunity provided here to work in partnership with Local Government on local issues for local communities.