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Byron Shire
April 12, 2021

Ballina’s $20m black hole

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Tony Gilding


I would like to explain how Ballina Greens plan to fund infrastructure and community services investment.

There isn’t a mayoral candidate who doesn’t want an indoor sports centre, swimming pools redeveloped, new Lennox surf club, and the commuter cycleway to Lennox finished – not to mention other programs – for Ballina.

Yet apart from Ballina Greens’ Jeff Johnson, no mayoral candidate has even suggested how to fund the $20 million budget shortfall to provide this infrastructure.

A tendering excess of $500,000 was issued to design the indoor sports centre. The money to actually build it doesn’t exist within the next four years – another report that will gather dust on the shelf. A 2011 report on public swimming pools identified $8 million of urgent maintenance and upgrades needed. A mere $40,000 has been allocated over the next four years.

Ballina Greens will implement three steps to fill the $20 million hole.

· An organisational review.

Managers are managing managers in this council. An independent organisational review would refocus council on its core job, delivering community infrastructure and services. That’s at least

$500,000 saved annually without compromising service levels. Fewer suits and more boots! The savings can go toward services and infrastructure such as playgrounds, skateparks, footpaths.

· An aggressive approach to winning government grants.

There are grants a-plenty, particularly in community services and parks/reserves, that council never applies for. A dedicated staff member can work on maximising our grants attracting capability. Cash can then flow to support existing programs and improve community services.

· Reallocating commercial property portfolio and industrial land banks capital towards four-year infrastructure delivery.

More than $11 million of ratepayer funds have been diverted into speculative commercial property investments over the past eight years. These have not been appreciating in value. Put that money with 50/50 grant funding into infrastructure delivery 2013–2016. The $11 million could be 100 per cent leveraged to $22 million.

Public money should deliver community projects, not be diverted into property. This election’s big question is ‘What do you most want? An investment property portfolio? Or a cycleway and a safe heated public pool available all year round?’

Beware of double-speak from the other candidates. Ballina Greens have identified the delivery of community infrastructure as a priority. And they have outlined a plan to deliver it within the next four years.

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