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Budget news welcome but more expected

Tuesday, 19th May, 2009

The replacement of the Regional Partnerships Program and an increase in funding were welcome, but City Council said the Federal Budget could have delivered more.

The final nail in the coffin for the RPP came when Treasurer Wayne Swan announced in last Tuesday's Budget that $2.6 billion would be made available for better local infrastructure and services, but that local governments and shires would be responsible for the delivery of the projects.

The Community Infrastructure Program (CIP), budgeted at $310 million for the 09/10 year, would build and renew critical local infrastructure such as community centres, town halls, parks and playgrounds, pools and sports facilities. City Council's general manager Frank Zaknich said the new program would allow local communities to determine the importance of a proposed project. "The programs are targeted at local projects which have been through an existing local planning and assessment process, prioritised and considered following community consultation through the Council/community strategic planning process," he said. "(It) streamlines and removes duplication of effort and administrative overlaps. "We now understand that there will be no new money allocated to the (CIP). "Projects will be allocated on a competitive bid basis and priority given to areas suffering high unemployment and/or vulnerability as a result of the global financial crisis." Despite allocating funds to many Far West projects, the RPP was found by the National Audit office in 2007 to be politically biased in the allocation of funding, that funding decisions were not based on merit, and that the timing of grants approval coincided with elections. Fefderal Minister for Regional Development, Anthony Albanese, said the CIP would bring better results. "As well as supporting jobs and local communities during the current global recession, these programs will deliver better roads, community facilities and services in communities around the country," Mr Albanese said. The Budget also provided more than $643 million in Financial Assistance Grants to NSW/ACT councils to help provide basic services infrastructure and an extra

$350 million (nationwide) to the Roads to Recovery program to allow for local road upgrade and maintenance. Mr Zaknich said while the funding was welcome it was still short of what councils were hoping for. "(The Financial Assistance Grants and Roads to Recovery program) are ongoing programs and Council will utilise its asset management plans and long term financial plans to prioritise capital works in these categories," Mr Zaknich said.

"The funding in real terms is an improvement, however still short of the requested ongoing one per cent of national tax income to be allocated to local government."

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