$70m to spend in 2 years
THE flood aftermath has left council with one of its biggest challenges as it prepares to delay road projects across the Southern Downs region.
It’s not often a local authority gripes about having too much money to spend, but with a potential $70 million of disaster funding heading this way, how our modestly-sized council manages to put it to good use before the two-year deadline is causing massive headaches.
The Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements funding has to be spent by June 2013 and though State and Federal Government are being lobbied to extend the timeframe, no decision has yet been made.
Southern Downs Regional Council CEO Rod Ferguson said their normal road budget was usually about $24 million a year, so spending the full $70 million on flood road recovery in two years would be a significant challenge.
Many projects from this year’s budget were scrapped and more delays will impact council’s five-year capital works program.
Councillors at yesterday’s engineering services committee meeting pleaded with officers not to embargo the next two year’s capital works.
Cr Jo McNally said she had real concern about the work snowballing.
“When I first came onto council we were still doing work from the flood two years ago,” she said.
“Now we’ve had another and we’re not doing any work. What if we have another flood?”
She insisted someone had to supervise the capital works projects and, whether it meant external contractors or employing more temporary staff, the work needed to continue.
“The ratepayers understand the work we are trying to do, but if it keeps going on for years and years their patience will wear thin,” Cr McNally said.
Council yesterday passed a budget amendment to free up capital allocation that won’t be spent in the current financial year and allow it to go to operational works.
Mr Ferguson said it was a huge challenge for the organisation and councillors had to keep in mind extra staff were not easy to employ.
“If we do take on staff we then need graders, trucks, supervisors and an engineer above that,” Mr Ferguson said.
“We’re potentially looking at creating three times as many staff members again and that’s being conservative.”
Cr Mally McMurtrie suggested employing well-resourced contractors and just an internal supervisor.
But acting director of engineering Adam Colrain said in the current climate that was virtually impossible to achieve.
“All the construction companies are gobbling up those engineers as we speak and to attract someone here is very difficult,” he said.
Mayor Ron Bellingham said he was concerned finding appropriately-resourced contractors would come at significant cost as the region would be in direct competition with mining areas.
But Cr Vic Pennisi warned council should be speaking to its local contractors as soon as possible, as he knew many were already being snapped up by Goondiwindi Council.
The report put to council yesterday will still have to be approved at the general meeting next week and will also be thrashed out during budget deliberations.
However projects proposed for 2011/12 include work on North Branch Rd, Goomburra to widen the road as a feedlot developer in the area has already given 50 per cent of the cost.
Berat-Forest Springs Rd Bridge replacement is considered a high priority as is Killarney’s Anemone St upgrade and reconstruction of Warwick’s Fitzroy St from Albion to Canning Sts.
However, round the table there were concerns Kittal Road Bridge was neglected in the next financial year.
Cr Peter Blundell said he understood there were some problems with the design of the crossing, but council could not delay the project.
Roger St car park in Stanthorpe was another project put on the backburner and Cr McNally also expressed concern the $150,000 intersection improvements at Rangers Rd/Oxenham/Junabee Rd.
Meanwhile, Mr Ferguson is preparing to represent the Southern Downs at the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry hearing in Goondiwindi on May 3, which the Daily News will also attend and report from directly.