State Budget supports projects, ups levies, misses on roads

East Gippsland Shire Council has welcomed funding for facilities that benefit young people and families in the 2024 State Budget. However, the good news is tempered by increases in a range of levies and taxes, and an underinvestment in regional priorities including road maintenance and natural area management.

Mayor Cr Tom Crook said Council was still digging into the details of the State Budget, handed down on Tuesday, and how it will support East Gippsland communities in the longer term.

“As with developing our own draft budget – currently out for community feedback – we understand the Government’s attempts to be more fiscally disciplined. We are keen to understand the details of the budget and how that translates to on-the-ground, direct support and initiatives for East Gippsland,” Cr Crook said.

Highlights for the region:

  • Paynesville Primary School – $4.4 million to modernise the school
  • Paynesville Bowls Club – $330,000 for a new synthetic green
  • Hoddinott Reserve, East Bairnsdale – $300,000 to upgrade the playground
  • Lakes Entrance – $4.5m to upgrade the training walls
  • Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust – a share of $13m for essential services and infrastructure upgrades

“These investments are good news for residents and families in Paynesville and East Bairnsdale, and some are for projects and investment Council has long advocated for. Improving facilities for people of all ages will encourage families to stay in, or move into, our region,” Cr Crook said.

Cr Crook also highlighted Council’s advocacy to obtain funding for the critical works required for the Lakes Entrance training walls.

“We have worked with Gippsland Ports and DEECA for a number of years to develop a project case for this investment, recognising that the training walls are critical for Lakes Entrance and the communities living around the Gippsland Lakes,” Cr Crook said.

Road freight and passenger vehicles travelling between East Gippsland and Melbourne will benefit from upgrades to the Sale Alternative Truck Route, which aims to create better freight corridors and reduce the number of trucks travelling through Sale.

Cr Crook noted that Council is an active member of both One Gippsland and South East Australia Transport Strategy (SEATS), which collectively identify and advocate for projects that go beyond the boundaries of individual local councils and benefit combined shires

“Although the work will be taking place in Sale, this project benefits the entire region and beyond through reduced travel times and improved safety,” Cr Crook said

“However, the level of investment in road maintenance on our arterial roads as indicated in the budget is disappointing. We hear constantly from our community that the standard of the arterial road network managed by the State is declining and needs significant investment.

“Council invests heavily in local roads. The State cannot keep underinvesting in major regional roads and expect the conditions of roads, and driver and passenger safety, to improve.”

Treasurer Tim Pallas highlighted support related to the end of native timber harvesting in his Budget speech – a critical item for our communities.

These included:

  • $11m to support the work of the Great Outdoors Taskforce
  • $105m to help restore native forests, promote biodiversity, and maintain roads for bushfire access
  • $290m to create jobs for former forestry workers in forest and fire management

“We are hoping the $11m for the Great Outdoor Taskforce is additional funding. As 75 per cent of our shire is public land, there is a desperate need for significant investment in the natural areas and biodiversity this estate contributes to Victoria,” Cr Crook said.

“We know East Gippsland punches above its weight in terms of natural values and our communities need ongoing funding from other levels of Government to drive jobs growth in looking after them on behalf of all Victorians

“Given that specific allocations for our communities effected by timber transition were not announced, we will be working with the Government to ensure that our communities get their fair share of this funding.

“We look forward to the Government explaining how these commitments will be rolled out to our impacted communities and by when.”

It was disappointing to see the Government has increased the Fire Services Property Levy and waste levy. These levies are both administered through Council rates, with Council merely the collection agency for Government.

The Fire Services Levy will increase by $35 for a median residential property and $150 for primary production properties. The waste levy, a fee paid to the Government by Council for every tonne of waste put in landfill, will also increase but is not expected to come into effect until 2025

Cr Crook said the announcement of funding for health services in Gippsland – a priority for those communities for some time – was very welcome.

“We hope it is an indication that investment in the Bairnsdale Regional Health Service should not be far behind,” Cr Crook said

“It was pleasing to see that school crossing supervisor funding – a service coordinated by Council – wasfunded for the next two years. We have advocated to the State to fund this important service that is directly linked to the provision of education.

Cr Crook acknowledged the Government for the investment it has made in East Gippsland in a tight budget.

“We look forward to getting the details on the broader range of initiatives and supports and what they mean for our communities.”

Mayor Tom Crook and Tom McIntosh MP celebrate a $300,000 investment in Hoddinott Reserve, East Bairnsdale, this week with East Gippsland Community Hub’s Lisa Lightowler and Nellie Hameeteman, and community members.

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