Fire recovery in council's hands

Blue Mountains City Council has agreed to take over the bushfire recovery process but will have to work with only half the resources expected because of a shortfall in government funding.

Mayor Mark Greenhill told a council meeting last week he was “less than pleased” about the funding issue.

“The council has been allocated $423,000 for 2.5 positions for 18 months. This is half the number that the Ministry for Police and Emergency Services and their recovery consultant agreed with council would be needed to take over and run the local recovery,” he said.

“So, while the dollars are welcome to support the local community, the council is being asked to take over with half the resources that the experts tell us we need.”

Blue Mountains MP Roza Sage said the total package from the NSW and federal governments was $1.8 million.

“This additional funding includes $500,000 in programs to  support small businesses affected by the bushfires [and] is on top of the state and commonwealth governments’ $11.4 million Blue Mountains clean-up package,” she said.

Councillors said the smaller-than-expected grant would make the work more difficult. Clr Mick Fell told the meeting it would mean operating “with one hand tied behind our back”.

Clr Brendan Luchetti said he was “bamboozled” at the level of funding and felt that “the goalposts keep shifting”.

“It’s been incredibly disappointing to go from a world-class [recovery] model and to see that whittled away over time for reasons I have yet to see explanations for. It makes it incredibly challenging for this council.”

Clr Greenhill said he had discussed the funding/resourcing issue with the council’s general manager, Robert Greenwood.

“He has indicated that the extent of the recovery effort will have to be tailored to the resources provided but considers that the council can make a good fist of it.

“My view is that the community wants certainty and they would welcome the local council taking over the lead.”

Council eventually voted to agree to take over the recovery process, subject to tweaking of some fine details in its memorandum of understanding with the NSW government.

* An additional $800,000 will be distributed to eligible fire-affected residents from the mayoral relief fund after further donations were received. Phil Koperberg, chairman of the fund committee, said residents who received a phase two grant payment won’t need to fill in another application form. “They will simply receive another cheque within the coming week,” he said.

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