Lithgow City Council will receive a further $1 million under the Drought Communities Program, Member for Calare Andrew Gee said this week.
Lithgow City Cr Maree Statham urged a rethink in the spending of any future grant allocation, saying at Monday night's council meeting that that the delivery of the original $1 million in drought funding had gone "really, really wrong".
She said some events were poorly attended and did not make use of enough local tradespeople or suppliers. Cr Statham said she realised the council had acted under a very short time constraint.
"I think it's been handled as well as we could have but I've been to every drought event and I think there's been a lot of money, I can't say wasted, but a lot of money spent too quickly through ticking the government boxes," she said.
"I've had a lot of feedback and it's not been positive, unfortunately."
Lithgow Council allocated funds to fully automated irrigation systems at Lithgow, Wallerawang and Portland sporting fields, new tourism signage, weed eradication, resurfacing of Wallerawang basketball stadium's floor as well as community events such as the Lithgow Blast.
Minister for water resources, drought, rural finance, natural disaster and emergency management David Littleproud said the criteria of the program had been made broad enough to provide councils flexibility to tailor a stimulus to their own community.
"The program well and truly allows for councils to build local infrastructure and employ local tradies," he said.
"Lithgow Council is therefore accountable to its community for the way this money is being spent. The Federal Government is flexible to allow extensions if councils have difficulty finding projects."
Member for Calare Andrew Gee said that, while his own preference was for funding to be spent on tangible infrastructure projects, it was up to councils to submit projects which are right for their communities and ensure it was well spent.
"I would encourage it [Lithgow City Council] to consult widely with the community on projects to be funded," he said.
"Any community groups with funding proposals should contact the council as soon as possible."
Cr Statham said she would have preferred to have seen a direct benefit for drought-sticken farmers.
"They should have done a means test... and found out the farmers in our LGA that have no other income coming in at all... There aren't many of them," she said.
"They should have been given a tank, some water, a $1000 diesel voucher, a $1000 food voucher and a $500 chemist voucher to spend in our LGA.
"Then go to the next tier where the wife might be working one day a week and the farmer not working."
Cr Steve Ring said the funding was for the benefit of the entire community.
"Drought Communities Program - it's drought communities not drought for farmers," he said.
"I understand the farmers are suffering but the whole community suffers throughout a drought."
Cr Ring said that he believed council had done a wonderful job dealing with all the circumstances to comply with the governments requirements.
"We didn't set the criteria [for how the funding was spent], the government did," he said.
"As a council we voted on what programs should go ahead, and some haven't due to sourcing materials and things.
"The fact that what we did was based on advice from our local branch of NSW farmers and as you talk to the branch, mental health is a key issue for them, so I congratulate them on getting as much done as they could under difficult circumstances."
General Manager Graeme Faulkner confirmed that the criteria for the Drought Communities Program was set by the Federal Government.
"We did consult with the community to find out what they wanted, but at the end of the day the approval was forthcoming from that federal department," he said.
"Importantly one of the key criteria was that local governments could not spend on areas that would normally fall within their jurisdiction or their normal budget process, it had to be outside of that and again the concept was more about trying to get employment going within the area itself."
Mr Faulkner said it was a possibility for council to gather feedback on what people thought was inappropriate expenditure and give that to Mr Gee.
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