New funding a drop in ocean

CASH-STRAPPED local councils have welcomed a Federal Government pledge of up to $8- million in infrastructure funding, but with a combined works backlog on the Coffs Coast of almost $150 million, the money may just be a drop in a very deep ocean.

More than 400 mayors from across the country, including Coffs Harbour mayor Keith Rhoades , were in Canberra yesterday for the first meeting of the Australian Council of Local Government, which saw Prime Minister Kevin Rudd commit $300 million to a regional and local community infrastructure program.

The government wants the infrastructure spending to boost economic activity due to the global financial crisis, but with Coffs Harbour City Council's infrastructure backlog worth a staggering $130 million and Bellingen Shire's topping the $10-million mark, the global crisis is the least of concerns.

Coffs Harbour mayor Keith Rhoades said the funding, which will equate to between $100,000 and $2.9 million, would help Coffs 'move forward'.

“We have plans that could be funded out of that money, such as a major upgrade of the pool and the Roads to Recovery program, and this really is the start of a bright future,” Cr Rhoades said.

“Coffs Harbour is a strong growth centre, and those centres deemed by the Federal Government as such will get a bigger share of the cake, with Mr Rudd assuring me that a $300,000 bonus is available for strong growth centres.”

Initially the funding will be allocated as a $250 million top up to the Financial Assistance Grants, with the further $50- million available for bigger ticketed items such as performing arts and sporting centres.

While Bellingen Shire Council general manager, Mike Colreavy, has welcomed the news, the council's ongoing infrastructure projects cost significantly more than the $2.9 million it could receive.

“Our infrastructure backlog is $10 million, and councils have been crying out for years to free up funding that is badly required,” Mr Colreavy said.

“We are waiting to hear what projects will qualify for the funding, but any money we receive will go some way to bringing our assets up to standard.”

Infrastructure Minister, Anthony Albanese, said the $300- million would be used to fix community infrastructure such as playgrounds, parks and libraries, but the money must be spent this year.

“This has to be stamped into this current financial year,” he said.

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