The Real Deal

 

The Facts - Commonwealth Disaster Recovery & Resilience Funding

On 9 January 2020 the Federal Government announced an immediate payment of $1M to the 42 Councils most impacted by the Bushfires which occurred across NSW in late 2019 and early 2020.  Bellingen Shire Council was a recipient of those funds, which was followed by a further allocation of $225K in February 2020.  Relevant correspondence is included in the report considered by Council on 3 April 2020, see link below.  

https://www.bellingen.nsw.gov.au/sites/bellingen/files/public/AGENDA%20-%20EXTRAORDINARY%20MEETING%20OF%20COUNCIL%20-%20FRIDAY%203%20APRIL%202020.pdf

Further to advice regularly sought from the NSW Office of Local Government, and in order to provide clarity around the administration of the funds, additional advice has been sought regarding the Commonwealth and State Government processes from the NSW Office of Emergency Management (NSW OEM), now Resilience NSW.

Advice received has reinforced that the funds were provided in accordance with the Commonwealth Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements 2018 (DRFA). Specifically, the Commonwealth has provided funding under Category D of the DRFA to the NSW Government, which has been provided to NSW Councils to be spent on projects and activities that council deems essential for the recovery and renewal of communities.

In terms of reporting, Council:

  1. was required to submit a program of works within three months
  2. is required to complete and report against the works within 12 months
  3. may adjust the program of works in consultation with Government

(Item one is complete following Council’s consideration of the matter on 3 April 2020 and subsequent advice to the NSW Government).

Additional grant opportunities

In addition, in early 2020 a range of additional grant opportunities emerged for economic recovery including:

  1. Bushfire Community Resilience and Economic Recovery Fund - $100,000
  2. Regional Tourism Bushfire Recovery Program – Stream 1 – up to $30,000
  3. Regional Tourism Bushfire Recovery Program – Stream 2 – undefined
  4. Regional Event Fund - Micro Events Fund - $10,000
  5. Regional Event Fund – Flagship Events - $20,000
  6. Special Disaster Grants – Up to $75,000 (for repairing of infrastructure)
  7. Supporting our Neighbours Project - $5,000 per km to rebuild fences
  8. Disaster Recovery Allowance – maximum payment is equal to the Job Seeker or Youth Allowance payment.

As these opportunities emerged Council staff developed projects and ideas in order to apply for grants available, either in its own right, or in conjunction with key stakeholders. Unfortunately, a number of the grant rounds were suspended as the Covid-19 pandemic began to emerge as many of the activities could not proceed due to social isolation and gathering restrictions.

Small Business Bushfire Grants extended to include Bellingen

Concurrent to this the Commonwealth Government announced funding for eligible small businesses to the value of $10,000. Seventeen Local Government Areas (LGA) were deemed eligible and this did not include the Bellingen LGA. Consequently, Council worked with the NSW Office of Emergency Management, and actively advocated to both the State and Commonwealth Government for inclusion of the Bellingen LGA in order that this grant opportunity be extended to businesses in the LGA. This required agreement from both the State and Commonwealth Government.

On 22 April 2020 the Commonwealth announced that the grant funding had been extended to a further 13 Councils including the Bellingen Local Government Area. In the intervening period grant funding opportunities have also emerged for small business, again for $10,000 per eligible business, relative to Covid-19.

Engagement

In the context of the very short timeframes for initial reporting to the State regarding a program of works for the $1.225m, and other grants, Council staff developed a range of ideas for the program(s). In addition engagement was undertaken with the objective of understanding the perspective of a range of key stakeholders, including local business, through engagement with the Chambers of Commerce, State Agencies (including the Rural Fire Service, National Parks and Wildlife, the State Emergency Service), and the Red Cross.

In each of the sessions it was acknowledged that the process was not best practice,  and outlined that this was a proactive (not required) endeavour to engage, gather information for input into the decision making process, and that the decision making process would be undertaken by council.

Noting the foregoing these sessions were used to collate ideas, in addition to those proactively submitted from members of the community, to produce an initial list of themes and potential projects.

Examples of ideas submitted by members of the community/community groups include projects such as establishing affinity groups, fostering community resilience, and cultural burning. Examples of funding sought by the Chambers of Commerce included the following:

Bellingen Chamber of Commerce

  • Adoption of a $100 value Cards4all program for every ratepayer household in the Shire redeemable only in businesses within Bellingen Shire
  • Tourism marketing campaign and provision of a $50 stored value card redeemable only in businesses within Bellingen Shire for the first 600 visitors who have booked 3 or more nights’ accommodation

Urunga Chamber of Commerce

  • One-off $5000 grant for businesses that have sustained significant loss
  • Adoption of a $100 voucher program redeemable only in businesses within Bellingen Shire
  • Tourism marketing campaign and provision of a $50 voucher redeemable only in businesses within Bellingen Shire for the first 500 visitors who have booked 3 or more nights’ accommodation

Dorrigo Chamber of Commerce

  • One-off $1500 grant for tourist related private businesses in the Dorrigo area
  • One-off $1000 grant for all other shopfronts in the Dorrigo area
  • $30,000 seed funding for two proposed Dorrigo festivals and Dorrigo Markets
  • $125,000 Dorrigo TV advertising campaign
  • $40,000 for the establishment of the Evacuation Centre
  • $10,000 for the Dorrigo Chamber of Commerce to manage the above distributions

Individual Chambers of Commerce submissions can be viewed by accessing the Council business paper of 3 April 2020.

In turn, ideas and themes from the various sessions were used as a base for initiating discussions with a wider group of community members for their input – in an endeavour to allow Council to develop an understanding of what was important to our wider community. 

On 2 March 2020 a Community Advisory Panel was convened, inviting 28 community members from across the Shire.  The list of attendees was selected based on current council understanding of those that could provide a cross section of views across the Shire.  17 independent attendees were able to attend.  A local facilitator supported the session as did a representative from the NSW OEM.

The objectives of the session were to:

  • Provide an overview of project and funding opportunities
  • Seek community opinion on draft priority ranking of topics and example projects for community resilience funding to help inform Council’s decision-making process
  • Invite feedback on formation of a ‘community resilience group’ to provide input to Council’s longer-term decisions on local resilience
  • Start tracking our journey of recovery/preparedness/resilience building 

Attendees were asked to rank projects within each theme, identify new projects, and undertake an online survey.

Following the session, it was apparent that there had been a good cross over of representation from Urunga, Bellingen and the smaller communities surrounding Bellingen.  However, Council did not feel that there had been appropriate representation from Dorrigo, as only 1 attendee of those invited was represented.   This was important as Dorrigo and surrounds had been heavily impacted as a community by the bush fires. 

On 13 March 2020, a second consultation session was held in Dorrigo where 35 people were invited, of which 8 representatives were able to attend.  Those present were also invited to suggest any additional projects and provide priorities on the day and subsequently via the online survey.  

There was a strong response to the online survey, with 22 of the 25 attendees responding. 

Key Points in reference to the overall rankings from the survey:

  • 16 of 22 respondents voted Community Preparedness for an Emergency as either 1st or 2nd highest priority theme
  • 20 people voted economic recovery as 4th, 5th or 6th priority theme
  • The Community Resilience Hub project was the highest scored project within the Community Preparedness theme

Although the personal and community support and economic recovery and development did not have high community support, several of the grants available are focused in these areas. All grant opportunities are being actively pursued.

Council resolution

Post the engagement sessions, Councillors work-shopped the various initiatives and projects prior to the Council meeting to consider the matter, originally scheduled for 25 March 2020. Unfortunately, that meeting was cancelled due to Covid-19, and social distancing requirements because at that time the opportunity to hold a virtual meeting was not legislated by the State.

Notwithstanding that Council did call an Extraordinary Meeting for 3 April 2020 once the virtual meeting was a possibility in order to consider several matters, including the allocation of the commonwealth funding and other relief measures.

On 3 April 2020, Council at its Extraordinary meeting endorsed the funding application/reports totalling $1.605M for the delivery of projects to support the Shire’s Recovery and Resilience/Preparedness activity following the Bushfires from the $1.225M government allocation and other potential grant opportunities.

Council’s resolution in the matter is as follows:

1) That Council endorse that funding application/reports totalling $1.605M be submitted

for the delivery of the following projects to support the Shire’s Recovery and

Resilience/Preparedness activity following the Bushfires (either immediately or when

cited grant rounds reopen):

a) Community Preparedness for Emergency: $675K, funded as follows:

i) Community Resilience Hub - $365K from Disaster Recovery Fund

ii) Emergency Information - $85K from Disaster Recovery Fund

iii) Resilience Disaster Response (Pilot) - $225K from Disaster Recovery Fund

b) Overarching Resilience Activity (All): $205K, funded as follows:

i) Resilience Coordinator - $145K from Disaster Recovery Fund

ii) Inter-Agency Disaster Management Forum - $10K from Disaster Recovery

Fund

iii) Deliberative Panel - $50K from Disaster Recovery Fund

c) Environmental Recovery & Development: $95K, funded as follows:

i) Advocate: better trails and for natural assets to be part of State/Federal

policies - $0K

ii) Indigenous Fire protection - $5K from Disaster Recovery Fund

iii) Vegetation Report and Plan - $90K from Disaster Recovery Fund

d) Infrastructure Restoration & Development: $170K, funded as follows:

i) Investment in Infrastructure - $120K from Disaster Recovery Fund

ii) Options Report alternative routes - $50K – from Disaster Recovery Fund

e) Personal & Community Support: $185K, funded as follows:

i) Art Recovery - $50K from Regional Tourism BFRG-2 (POSTPONED)

ii) Coordinate a Shire appropriate response to Mental Health Support with

agencies- $0K

iii) Community Event Sponsorship Fund - $100K from Regional Tourism BFRG-2

(POSTPONED)

iv) Community Get Together - $35K from Disaster Recovery Fund.

f) Economic Recovery & Development: $275K, funded as follows:

i) Event Stimulus Fund – $100K from Regional Tourism BFRG-2 (POSTPONED)

ii) Host Tourism Awards – $30K from Regional Tourism BFRG-1 (POSTPONED)

iii) That the submission includes an economic recovery and development project to

the value of $145k and there be further consultation in this regard.

2) That Council receive progress reports in the matter

More specific detail on each of the proposed projects (including funding breakdowns and rationale for inclusion) may be viewed by accessing the business paper for the Extraordinary Council Meeting Agenda of 3 April 2020, however projects identified in the report include, but are not limited to:

Community Resilience Hub

At a high level, a Community Resilience Hub (CRH) is a community-serving facility augmented to support residents and coordinate resource distribution and services before, during, or after a disaster.

CRHs leverage established, trusted, and community-managed facilities that are used year-round as neighbourhood centres for community-building activities. CRH enhance community recovery and preparedness and contribute to local quality of life. In addition, they have the potential to reduce burden on local emergency response teams, improve access to health improvement initiatives, foster greater community cohesion, and increase the effectiveness of community-centred institutions and programs.

Moreover, Resilience Hubs provide an opportunity to build local community power and leadership. They are focal points for neighbourhood revitalization that provide the resources residents need to enhance their own individual capacity while also supporting and strengthening their neighbourhood and neighbours.

Consequently, the Resilience Hub will be designed by the community to meet their needs and this process will occur over the next 12 months.  There are examples in the Council report of 3 April 2020 of what may be funded, and its functions may include:

  • A physical location
  • A meeting space for community groups that are involved in resilience activities
  • Home to micro communities
  • Resources for community
  • Advice on access to funding
  • Supporting governance and mutual alignment
  • Funding of key community preparedness capital/projects

For ease of reference the table below outlines at a high level the breakdown of the subprojects and rationale.

Resilience Disaster Response Project

Council’s allocation of funding seeks to ensure investment in bushfire recovery also addressed Covid-19 or any other disaster, because as a community we want to be better prepared.  This is a core part of preparedness and building of resilience.

For ease of reference the table below outlines at a high level the breakdown of the subprojects and rational

The Resilience Disaster Response Project (pilot for Covid-19) relates to funding of any expenses (outside of Council seconded resources that are being borne solely by council) that have come about via the Pandemic Response Group (PRG) and relate to the building of Community Resilience.

Council was concerned to ensure our community was as prepared as possible, and to build a resilience model that could be stood up and stood down as required, which necessitated a body of work and resourcing. Therefore, the Pandemic was seen as an opportunity to pilot some of the community responses that a Resilience Hub would likely have stood up.

This has resulted thus far in the creation of the Neighbourhood Care Network (NCN), the Bellingen Shire Connects website and the Connections centre (with processes and procedures that can be stood up/down in future emergencies or become part of the community resilience hub as appropriate) and the Business Support Network.

Council have not used this funding to reimburse any of their resources but have seconded their staff to support this community led activity.  Therefore, this funding is being used to support community groups and the initiatives outlined above. Lastly this does not duplicate any other Covid-19 funding.

Infrastructure Investment and Restoration

It is appreciated that the infrastructure restoration allocation is likely to be an area having multiple demands placed upon it.  Council is currently recruiting to the role of Community Recovery, Preparedness and Resilience Officer. Once that person is in place, they will be focusing on prioritising activity, engaging with communities and establishing governance arrangements.  This activity will review in finer detail of the high-level projects. 

For ease of reference the table below outlines at a high level the breakdown of the subprojects and rationale.

Deliberative Panel

Deliberative democracy or deliberative engagement is all about placing people (citizens, residents, affected individuals) closer to the affairs of government and decision makers. Deliberative democracy emphasises information processing (meaning/sense-making) as much as information exchange (communication of information), and encourages people to critically test, weigh up and grapple with a range of perspectives, inputs and evidence.  Deliberative approaches seek to elicit informed, quality, meaningful outputs.

The function of the Panel will be to listen to options, be provided with detailed information and then deliberate as a group and make a recommended course of action to council on challenging recovery/preparedness/resilience issues facing our community.  The design of the panel will seek to ensure demographic representation across the Shire via an appropriate democratic process (details to be determined).  The funding will be used to ensure that the panel is informed via the utilisation of expert information providers on the subject, setting up of governance and gaining appropriate member representation, provision of a location and relevant costs for running the panel, recording and collating the outcomes and reporting back to the panel.

Additional funding opportunities

In addition, in terms of funding for economic recovery, Council has allocated or identified additional grant funding opportunities (that are being actively pursued) to the value of $145,000 and $230,000 respectively and once the Community Recovery Preparedness and Resilience and Preparedness Officer is in place, they will be focusing on prioritising activity, engaging with communities and establishing governance arrangements to support the programs and funding distribution.

This activity will review in finer detail all the high-level projects including ensuring that further consultation takes place regarding the investment of $145K for economic recovery, in keeping with Council’s resolution in the matter. 

In accordance with the discussion held at the Council meeting, the consultation is wide (in terms of reflecting all businesses in the shire) and enables all ideas and priorities to be put forward for consideration and deliberation. We look forward to moving forward with this activity once resources are on board to do so.

Other related matters

Comparative to other Councils

Council’s resolution of 3 April 2020 allocated $145,000 to economic development and recovery. As outlined above, this is in addition to a range of additional similarly focused grants valued at around $230,000 which have either been applied for or will be when they are re-established post Covid-19.

The Council report of 3 April 2020 notes the type and value of projects approved in neighbouring councils, the detail of which can be viewed on pages 48-50 and at the time of preparation of the report, Port Macquarie-Hastings Council had allocated $100,000 of its $1.4M allocation to marketing campaign/tourism/business; Nambucca Shire Council made no allocation to economic development/business; and Coffs Harbour City Council allocated $68,000 to business and tourism support, strategies to move visitors to affected areas.

Council relief to disaster

It is also important to note that at its 3 April 2020 meeting Council considered a report regarding relief measures to the community in response to the pandemic crisis inclusive of Council providing immediate relief to tenants in one Council owned set of buildings to the value of $5000 per month.

The report can be accessed here:

https://www.bellingen.nsw.gov.au/sites/bellingen/files/public/AGENDA%20-%20EXTRAORDINARY%20MEETING%20OF%20COUNCIL%20-%20FRIDAY%203%20APRIL%202020.pdf

Extraordinary Council Meeting

In response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, relevant legislation has been amended to allow Councils to meet ‘virtually’ (on-line) and observe best practice social distancing and isolation protocols.

As a consequence, an Extraordinary Council Meeting will be held at 3pm Friday 03 April 2020 and will be conducted in a virtual environment (on-line).

The Extraordinary Meeting Agenda will be available online prior to the meeting and an audio recording of the meeting will also be uploaded to Council’s website at:

https://www.bellingen.nsw.gov.au/council/agenda-and-minutes

Please also note that Council’s Bellingen Customer Service Centre, including Council Chambers, remain closed to the public to protect the safety and well-being of our community, Councillors, volunteers, contractors and staff.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Community Update

To provide our community with the latest NSW Health Advice Coronavirus Community Updates and promote an awareness of Council's Bellingen Shire Corona Virus Pandemic Response Group's current local response and support initiatives, simply click here to find out more.

Desalination Update

Council has been working with the State Government to proactively investigate options to secure our Shire’s water supply, including the proposed construction of an emergency water supply contingency in the form of a portable desalination plant.

This body of work has been complex and has required detailed planning, design and approval processes to be undertaken, inclusive of the procurement processes necessary to secure the provision of plant and associated infrastructure for a fixed period.

Given the current flows in the Bellinger River and the predicted continued rainfall over the coming months the desalination plant may not be required, however the planning and design phase of these works will continue and be finalised and Council will continue to work closely with DPI Water and the Regional Town Water Supply Coordinator.

Pilot Street Urunga Rail Overbridge - Temporary Closure

Contractors John Holland, on behalf of the Australian Rail Track Corporation, will be undertaking bridge maintenance works on the rail overbridge on Pilot Street Urunga from Tuesday 3 March to Wednesday 11 March.

The bridge will be closed to all traffic between the hours of 9.00am to 3.00pm and detours will be in place during these hours and access through the bridge site will be controlled by traffic control outside of the closure hours.

Thinking of running for Local Government?

The next Local Government election will be held on Saturday, 12 September 2020, therefore it’s timely to consider contributing to our local community and becoming a Councillor.

To find out more about the role of a Councillor and information on the nomination process visit Council's Create Page via the link below:

https://create.bellingen.nsw.gov.au/our-council-our-community

Bushfire Recovery Fund

As an active and proud member of the Australian community, Budget Direct has created the Budget Direct Bushfire Recovery Fund.

Budget Direct is inviting community groups to apply for grants of up to $20,000 from the fund to help these groups repair or replace damaged or destroyed facilities and/or equipment that aren’t covered by insurance.

Applications are now open and close at midnight AEST, 31 March 2020 so to find out more about who can apply, and the fund’s eligibility criteria simply click on the link below:

https://www.budgetdirect.com.au/landingpages/bushfire-recovery-fund.html?fbclid=IwAR1SidqlyuDa0N6neMlbuTiWepqBWJdl3azVb-JN3-Jhh14DKBSCemaDWNw

Potential disruption to kerbside waste collections

Due to adverse weather conditions and local flooding, there is a potential for some disruption and delays to the kerbside waste collections.

Bellingen Shire residents are advised to place their bin out on the kerbside on their usual collection day and to leave it there until collected.

We thank you for your understanding.

Contact Coffs Coast Waste Services on 1800 265 495 for further collection information or check the Coffs Coast waste Services FaceBook page www.facebook.com/CoffsCoastWaste/

Bellingen Shire Benefits from Koala Conservation

The Great Koala National Park (GKNP) operates the Urunga Visitor Information Centre in conjunction with Visitor Information Centre volunteers to raise awareness of GKNP’s efforts to establish sustainable Koala populations in our region and to promote Urunga and all that our Shire has to offer.

This arrangement delivers the best possible outcomes for our local environment and economy as it meets the needs of visitors to our Shire and promotes opportunities for nature-based tourism initiatives.

Council’s previous efforts to attract a replacement tenant were also unsuccessful, so this new arrangement also allows Council to minimise its previous operational and maintenance costs and minimises the risk of graffiti or vandalism that an otherwise vacant facility may have attracted.

Bridge Flood Camera Network Niggles - 07/02/2020

Council’s Bridge Flood Camera Network was not only tested by the weather but by some technical challenges as well thanks to the low-pressure trough which caused flood like conditions across our Shire.

While the camera network performed well throughout much of the severe weather event, unfortunately the Lithium Ion battery which allows the Lavenders Bridge camera to wirelessly send the images it captures failed, which saw the system go off-line for several hours during the night.

The service provider has since replaced the failed battery and is working on upgrading the battery capacity for the Lavenders Bridge Camera and supporting the battery’s long-term charge capacity with a solar panel.

The Lean’s Bridge and Moody’s bridge cameras also experienced temporary difficulties transmitting images over the 4G Network due to signal interference caused by the severe low-pressure storm cells and the service provider is working on upgrading the antennas of these two cameras to boost their signal capacity.

The service provider has also placed a service crew on stand-by to monitor the performance of the camera network while these network upgrades are being delivered and to address any onsite issues should that be necessary.

Parliamentary Inquiry into Koala Populations & Habitat

Council appeared before the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Koala Populations and Habitat in Port Macquarie this week. Council took the opportunity to highlight the critical importance of our Shire’s koala population and the need for landscape wide approaches to koala habitat protection that cover multiple land tenures including private land, National Parks and Forestry Corporation estate.

Fortunately, koala populations within our Shire have remained largely unaffected by the recent bushfires that have ravaged landscapes and koala populations elsewhere within our region, which means Council’s efforts to preserve and support our remaining koala populations are now more important than ever.

Tree Removal at Jarret Park

In response to a call from a concerned resident, Council’s tree crew and a consulting arborist inspected a mature Dunn’s White Gum Tree located in Jarret Park adjacent to the toilet block.

The arborist’s inspection identified that the tree had an extreme structural failure in its trunk approximately two meters above ground level and that the tree was expected to fall at any moment.

Given the risk the tree posed due to its large size (approximately 1.3m wide and 30m tall), the arborist recommended to remove the tree immediately and Council’s tree crew secured the site and removed the tree.

Main Street Vandalism

The reports of vandalism to public and private property along Hyde Street over the weekend are disappointing for all of us.

Disappointing because the bad behaviour of a few people directly affects us as a community and reflects poorly on our town.

Council crews and mains street traders have collectively cleaned up the mess left by these careless vandals and surveillance cameras in the area are currently being checked to try and identify the culprits.

The matter has been referred to the police and anyone with further information is urged to contact Bellingen Police on 6655 1444.

Mayor's comment - Local Housing Strategy

Council’s recent adoption of our Shire’s Local Housing Strategy marks the completion of a journey that started two years ago when as a community, we began working together to identify our shared vison, hopes and aspirations on how we wanted our Shire to grow.

As a community you have all played a key role in shaping our Local Housing Strategy, which reflects our priorities for future housing growth and ideas on how to address the complex opportunities and challenges facing our Shire.

So I’d personally like to thank our community for coming together and working with us to create this shared vision that will guide housing growth in our Shire for the next 20 years and ensure our future housing needs are affordable, sustainable and maintain the existing character of this special place we all call home.