Australia –– ONE of Victoria’s worst-hit areas in the Black Saturday bushfires is asking the state government for $14 million to pay for the upkeep of assets it has been given.
Murrindindi Shire Council covers the area northeast of Melbourne, including Kinglake and Marysville, which was devastated by the 2009 fires.
With about 1300 of its homes and businesses destroyed and 95 residents killed, the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority gave the shire $43.8 million in assets such as community halls, recreation facilities, trails and bridges.
But with its rate revenue base also gutted by the falling property values after the fires, the shire is now finding it cannot pay the costs of maintaining these new assets.
It has asked the state government for $14.1 million to pay for their operation, maintenance, renewal and insurance costs until 2021.
Murrindindi Shire mayor John Walsh says the council expects its rate base will have recovered after that to the point where it can handle the costs of maintaining the assets.
“At the moment our projections are that we’ll certainly be financially viable over the next 10 years, but that it will be rather tough,” Mr Walsh told AAP.
“We’re in a council area that’s trying to recover and there are a lot of extra imposts on us.”
The council hopes to know by the end of the year or early next year if the government can provide the one-off payment.
Mr Walsh said the council was “always optimistic”, but if it didn’t receive the help it would have to look again at ways to make further efficiencies.
The council has already raised its rates by six per cent to cover the costs of its other operations and made changes to save $1.6 million each year.
The option of asking for a government payment was one of five presented in a council-commissioned report by accounting firm KPMG on the extent of the shortfall and ways to cover it.
Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell said the government was considering the options in the KPMG report.
“The coalition government is assessing the best means of providing assistance to the Shire of Murrindindi in respect of the financial challenges it faces,” Ms Powell said.
She said there was a $9.7 million Murrindindi assistance package after the fires to support the rebuilding and recovery effort, including $3.2 million to help offset a rate revenue shortfall from 2009-10 to 2012-13 and $6 million for expenses associated with bushfire recovery programs.
An additional $920,000 was made available to Murrindindi council after the bushfire reconstruction and recovery authority ceased.