Councils cautious on funding

Councils cautious on new state government drought funding


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DROUGHT FUNDING: East Gippsland mayor Natalie O'Connell, Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes, Member for Eastern Victoria Jane Garrett and Wellington Shire Council mayor Alan Hall (both back), Premier Daniel Andrews and Bairnsdale producer Trevor Caithness at last week's drought funding announcement.

DROUGHT FUNDING: East Gippsland mayor Natalie O'Connell, Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes, Member for Eastern Victoria Jane Garrett and Wellington Shire Council mayor Alan Hall (both back), Premier Daniel Andrews and Bairnsdale producer Trevor Caithness at last week's drought funding announcement.

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Drought-affected Victorian councils promise to speak with farmers, about drought spend.

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The mayor of one of the three Victorian councils granted a share of $5.2 million in state government drought funding, has indicated rate relief is "on the table" for farmers.

Farmers in the Millewa, stretching from Mildura to the South Australian border, are suffering from the worst drought in more than 70 years.

Mildura Rural City Council mayor Simon Clemence said his local authority expected to receive $700,000.

"We have to look at the funding rules the government has put around the money, meet with farmers, decide what their needs are and how they want it spent," Cr Clemence said.

"It's supposed to be spent as directly as possible, on the farmers themselves."

Read more: Rate relief suggestion welcomed

But the mayors of two drought-affected eastern Victorian shires, which also received funding, were more cautious.

Wellington shire mayor Alan Hall said both his local authority, and East Gippsland, would work with their respective farming reference groups, then put together a joint "forward focus" document.

"At this very moment we're not making a commitment to any of that until we take the time to digest it and see how we can get the best result not only for our farming community but our broader Wellington community," Cr Hall said.

East Gippsland shire mayor Natalie O'Connell said the local authority had heard "loud and clear" rate relief was on top of the list.

"We know that [rate relief] is a big priority but we need to make sure we cover off on all of the community," Cr O'Connell said.

"We want to get that money out the door very quickly but we need to make sure we consult and get that money to where it is needed most."

Cr Clemence said there were 89 properties in the Millewa, but some had more than two families, and others had multi-generational operations.

"There are workers, as well, in the Millewa, and there would be people running businesses who would be struggling," he said.

"There'll be negotiations and discussions with farmers, as to what the options are."

He said he was aware farmers had been asking the state government for rate relief.

"They know that if the council provides relief out of its own funding, the rest of the community has to make up the difference, and they don't want that burden on the community," he said.

"That's on the table, that's something we will discuss with farmers."

The government also announced the Catchment Management Authority Drought Employment Program, giving farmers and their employees access to off-farm employment and training, would be rolled out in the Millewa and Goulburn Murray Irrigation District (GMID).

Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority chief executive Chris Norman, which covers part of the GMID, welcomed the money.

"We have a good track record in delivering similar programs," Mr Norman said.

"This includes after fire and flood, during the last drought and to support industry as it transitions, such as the Fruit Industry Employment Program run during 2013-14."

Mr Norman said while the full details were yet to be worked out, the program should cover about 50 farmers or farm workers.

"Program participants will receive training and income while delivering works that protect and improve the environment," he said.

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