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(NEW SOUTH WALES) NSW Council Report: The interim administrator says it “inappropriately” allocated state bushfire recovery funds to a project unaffected by fire after dozens of homes in the shire were destroyed during the Black Summer disaster #AceNewsDesk report

#AceNewsReport – May.13: During a meeting of the Wingecarribee Shire Council in the state’s Southern Highlands on Wednesday, Viv May said the now suspended council received a $250,000 New South Wales Government grant to support local businesses and the community to overcome the social and financial impact of the fires:

NSW Report: Bushfire recovery funds ‘inappropriately’ given to agriculture, equine projects in Wingecarribee shire, review finds: The Bushfire Resilience and Economic Recovery Fund had been offered to affected councils to provide “immediate” and “locally-lead” community and economic recovery activities during the 2019/20 bushfires.

updated 5h ago

Two firefighters walk around a truck.
Wingecarribee administrator Viv May says he’s concerned some of the bushfire recovery money allocated to the council was “inappropriately” spent. (ABC News: Jake Lapham)

Mr May said instead the Wingecarribee Council spent $100,000 of the funding on developing a plan to grow the agribusiness and equine industry in the shire, in partnership with Destination Sydney and surrounds.

“While I understand agribusiness and equine industries are emerging in the shire, in my opinion, there is no evidence that this industry was significantly impacted by the fires,” he said.

“In addition, the project that was funded had a 12-month duration which raises concerns around the immediate response and focussed on very niche local businesses.

“I’ve also reviewed the project brief and there appears to be no focus on bushfire recovery and, in my view, this project was inappropriately funded using bushfire recovery funding and as such should have been funded out of the council’s general fund.

He said while the project itself was “credible” and “very important to the future of the shire”, he did not support the use of bushfire recovery money to fund it. 

Sign of the town of Balmoral with fire truck behind
Balmoral was one of the worst hit towns from the Green Wattle Creek Fire(ABC Illawarra: Tim Fernandez)

‘There were mistakes made’

Around 60 homes were destroyed in the Wingecarribee Shire when the Green Wattle Creek and Morton Fires ripped the region in December 2019 and early January 2020.

More than 20 homes were reduced to rubble at Balmoral while dozens more were flattened at Wingello, Exeter, Penrose and Bundanoon.

Mr May said he had initiated a review of the council’s use of state and federal grants in the wake of the fires and its handling of the bushfire recovery effort.

“Clearly there were mistakes made on the part of council and it is important that the lessons learnt be publicly aired,” he said.

“I have asked the staff for a warts and all report on the council’s response to the fires and recovery action.”

“The report will be prepared by council and is to be prepared in consultation with the Rural Fire Service and Resilience New South Wales, and I believe will have substantial recommendations,” he said.

Mr May said he would also request the funds be reallocated to “genuine” fire-affected projects.

“I will personally talk with villages and RFS local captains in this regard,” Mr May said.

The former Mayor of the Wingecarribee, Duncan Gair, has defended the organisation’s allocation of the bushfire recovery funding.

“To my recollection, this was ratified by the Premier’s Office and as such, I think [NSW] the National Party leader may have been very involved in the approval of these grants,” Mr Gair said.

“The grant was used to explore how to make the equine industry more resilient if we had bushfires again.

“The grant was given under the state government. Council did not approve it. That is up to the state government to set the rules, set the guidelines, set the conditions and then oversee the grant itself.

“So this is just another unfortunate comment that has been made which in my opinion has smeared the council and the councilors who have served the community for decades,” Mr Gair said. 

The offices of the Premier and Deputy Premier have been contacted for comment. 

The NSW Government has also previously faced scrutiny for its allocation of bushfire recovery funds.

The NSW Greens raised questions about $107 million that went to just 22 “fast-tracked” projects that the NSW government had already identified and invited to apply without an open application process and included $11 million for a skydiving facility

Front of Wingecarribee Council chambers with a Australian flag flying on flag pole.
Around 60 homes were  destoryed in the Wingecarribee Shire during the 2019/20 Black Summer bushfires. (Supplied: Wingecarribee Shire Council )

Station Street upgrade dumped

During his update to the community, Mr May also moved to scrap the controversial Station Street Upgrade after the forecast cost of the work had blown out to $36 million dollars.

The controversial local infrastructure project was first mooted more than a decade ago and had received $7.5 million in state funding.

Mr May said he would now seek to meet with Wollondilly MP Nathaniel Smith to have the grant reallocated to “other significant road works in the shire.”

#AceNewsDesk report ……Published: May.14: 2021:

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