Blue Mountains mayor Mark Greenhill calls it a “real calamity”. The $1.8million in funds promised by the State Government to help with the bushfire recovery has failed to materialise and he’s angry about it.
“With three days to go [until recovery co-ordinator Phil Koperberg finishes] there is no sign of the money, we still have had no handover, no transition plan. This is extraordinary,” Clr Greenhill said.
Blue Mountains council expected to be advised by the NSW government of the funding arrangements and timeframe for the handover at the end of January, he said. As the Gazette went to press, the mayor was being forced to negotiate separately with Mr Koperberg to see if he would continue working part-time on the recovery effort now for council.
“The NSW Government wants us to take responsibility for the ongoing recovery of the natural disaster with the greatest loss of homes in NSW, but until we have the necessary funding we can’t do the job being asked of us. We are repeatedly told that the announcement of funding will be made ‘shortly’, but it hasn’t.”
“The government told us we had this grant, it was confirmed in emails [with staff from the Ministry for Police and Emergency Services] and meetings with our staff — we were told Phil’s two week extension was for the handover but he hasn’t been made available.”
Blue Mountains MP Roza Sage said she was expecting the longer term funding decision to come “soon”.
“I expect a decision about the longer term funding to resource the ongoing recovery transition in the Blue Mountains to be made soon and will continue to ensure this remains a top priority for the government,” she said. “We want to make sure the money gets distributed to the right places across the community,” she said.
The NSW and federal governments had contributed $11.4 million towards the Blue Mountains recovery to date and the state government was “now considering a package for the next 18 months of the recovery process,” Mrs Sage said.
“I am constantly working to ensure this recovery is moving as swiftly and effectively as possible,” she said.
Mrs Sage also added the Ministry for Police and Emergency Services “has been operating on the ground since the beginning of the October fires and will continue to work with the community during the rebuilding phase” and the state government “continues to assist the community through the Bushfire Information and Support Centre and the support services that it provides to local residents”.
But Clr Greenhill said disasters in other states had been given more long-term support.
“If you look at Queensland floods, Tasmanian fires or Victorian fires, what you have there is recovery efforts in place for a year state-led – we get four months,” he said.
“Council is not in a position to continue providing services as part of normal business, while also picking up responsibility for the bushfire recovery process. Nor can any smaller council like ours be expected to have the necessary staff on tap.”
Up to a third of council’s workforce is supporting the bushfire response and recovery efforts with a December council report showing it had already cost council $1.7 million. Approximately $1.2 million of this cost has been claimed from the NSW Government “leaving $500,000 of employment costs that cannot be recovered”.
The mayor said the dedicated rebuild advisory service set up on November 18 by council, with the support of NSW Rural Fire Service, continues to offer streamlined information and a fast-tracked development approval process. As of Friday February 7, council had received 27 rebuild development applications.
“So, in the absence of an agreed transition plan or funding from the NSW government, council is as ready as we can be to take on the next phase.”
Clr Greenhill said the council will focus on rebuilding, and the social, economic and environmental recovery.