GREATER Taree City Council wants to take the fight for the $11.4 million Greater Taree Roads and Bridges Package to deputy prime minister, Warren Truss.
Mayor Paul Hogan, general manager Gerard Jos and seven councillors met with federal member for Lyne, David Gillespie on Wednesday to discuss council's position that $11.4 million of $12.5 million in funding for Manning Valley roads and bridges should not have been withdrawn by the federal government.
The outcome of the meeting was that Mr Gillespie will act on council's request that he seek an urgent meeting with Mr Truss to discuss funding commitments to the Regional Development Australia Fund and Community Infrastructure Grants Program.
"The need for this meeting is urgent as the federal government would be discussing budgetary processes," Cr Hogan said.
"I am fighting for the community for what is rightfully ours, for money that was approved to be spent in this council area."
Council's right to that money is the issue that has polarised council and Mr Gillespie. In recent weeks, Mr Gillespie and council have fought a very public battle to try to communicate their differing views on the funding of the Greater Taree Roads and Bridges Package.
Council has held meetings at locations that will not have critical infrastructure work undertaken if the funding is not provided to council by the federal government. Cr Hogan fronted crowds to promote council's perspective on its entitlement to the funding and provided residents with a fact sheet outlining timeline events relating to the funding process and events that occurred before and after the 2013 federal election.
Mr Gillespie initiated a letterbox campaign to more than 20,000 homes in the Greater Taree City Council area.
In a letter he stated his view that the former Labor government "never completed its promise on the remaining funds and Greater Taree City Council now expects the new federal coalition government to honour Labor's unfulfilled 2010 promise. The simple fact is that this money is not there."
Mr Gillespie also directed community attention to complaints received by his office about how council spends the money it receives from "rates and federal and State taxes" and highlighted aspects of various reports that relate to the financial sustainability and practices of council.
Mr Gillespie stated that "the federal government is not in a position to throw council even more funding on top of the millions it already receives. What council should be really seeking is a 'hand up' not a hand out." The mailout also included a reply paid survey seeking community comment about how council spends its money in relation to its roads program.
Cr Hogan said he welcomed the opportunity to sit down with Mr Gillespie to talk about the issues.
"I extended the hand of friendship and it was accepted," Cr Hogan said. "My issue has never been with Mr Gillespie."
Cr Hogan said a focus of the meeting was the December 4, 2013 media statement of Mr Truss in relation to his portfolio as the minister for infrastructure and regional development. The statement focused on funding of the new Community Development Grants Program.
Mr Truss stated, "The Australian Government will also fund projects that were left uncontracted under the former Labor Government's Regional Development Australia Fund (RDAF) (Rounds 2,3,4) and Community Infrastructure Grants Program (CIG)." Further, "The Australian Government will fund the RDAF (Rounds 2, 3 and 4) and CIG projects on the condition that contracts are finalised within six months."
Cr Hogan said council met the required funding deadline as it submitted its paperwork relating to the funding on June 26, 2013.
The meeting with council and Mr Gillespie also discussed the comments of assistant minister of infrastructure and regional development, Jamie Briggs. In an interview with Sky News journalist, Kieran Gilbert on December 4, 2013, Mr Briggs echoed the comments made by Mr Truss in relation to funding the RDAF, adding "We have decided after giving consideration after coming into government to uncontracted regional development grants and community infrastructure grants that the Labor Party left sitting there when they went into caretaker mode, that we will pick those uncontracted grants up from rounds two, three and four of the regional development program, because we don't believe that the community should have to pay for Labor's chaos and dysfunction."