Councils feeling financial strain -- Tweed silent on its position

By PETER CATON

HALF of all councils in NSW are not financially sustainable and only a quarter will be in the future, according to a leading government finance expert. But Tweed Shire Council is refusing to say what category it believes it is in.

Professor Allen Percy of financial consultancy firm Review Today, who heads up the NSW Government's Council on the Cost and Quality of Government, says local councils desperately need to find more income.

A new study his firm has commissioned has detailed problems with most councils and identified a high number of unsafe and unsound council assets which need to be improved urgently.

Professor Percy Allen said affected councils would "have to put up their revenues either through rates, fees and charges, or get increased money from the Commonwealth and State Governments to overcome these problems".

He said some councils had serious problems but were telling their communities how serious they are.

"Infrastructure is the biggest issue," he said.

"They maintain a lot of roads, storm water pipes, buildings, kerbing and guttering, traffic lights. Those things were built in the 1960s and they are now coming to the end of their life and there just isn't the money to replace them."

NSW Local Government Minister Paul Lynch has blamed the Federal Government for cutting grants to councils A Tweed Shire Council spokesperson refused to comment. However the NSW Local Government and Shires Associations jointly criticised the study saying it was a "rehash of old news".

"That many councils in NSW are struggling to maintain services and infrastructure for their communities because of back logs and a lack of funds is nothing new," said Local Government Association president Cr Genia McCaffery. "Local Government has been very upfront about the challenges it is facing, and is in the process of doing its bit to deal with the problem by improving asset management systems and other processes." Cr McCaffery said she was concerned the would be seen as a "measurement of how well councils provide for their communities generally on a day to day basis".Instead she claimed it reflected only the "on paper" financial position of councils and not changing circumstances or environmental or social factors.



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