Straight talk on curly question of road funding
IT’S TIME to have a straight talk about roads.
Simply put, the shire works program is under-resourced.
From 2013 to 2019, overall expenditure for the shire’s transport budget has risen from $2.3 million to $4.3 million, an increase of 87 per cent.
Transport also includes plans, wages, administrative costs, other maintenance, loans and reserve account payments.
When only road construction and maintenance is considered, investment has declined half a million dollars in seven years from $3.1 million in 2013 to $2.5 million in 2019.Read more
In this period, the shire’s own investment in roads averaged $667,000 a year to 2019.
In contrast, the cost of supplies to local government has increased considerably.
The Shire’s Manager of Assets and Works believes a realistic budget to maintain the roads and drainage network is estimated to be between $4 million and $5 million each year.
What has happened?
344km of unsealed roads
For a small ratepayer base, we have many subdivisions and 658km of road and drainage network – 344km unsealed and 314km sealed, in 1693sq/km of mostly hilly terrain.
Unsealed gravel roads are designed for low traffic volumes.
Although more economical to build, they deteriorate quickly with storm or prolonged rain events, particularly on slopes.
Unsealed gravel roads require higher maintenance than bitumen, which provides better value for money.
Subdivisions, hilly terrain and half a network of gravel roads means Toodyay has higher maintenance demands than surrounding rural shires with flatter terrain and fewer rural subdivisions.
Small shire workforce
The shire has a small workforce to meet these challenges – only four full-time employees in road maintenance and four in road construction.
The Road Maintenance Team not only maintains the local road and drainage networks, re-sheets gravel roads and undertakes storm repairs (roads, drains and culverts) but also completes traffic management and site inspections.
It also does cemetery works, installs signage, assists the transfer station and provides inter-departmental support for projects and events.
Our roads are largely funded by State and Federal grants, along with road-user contributions and our own funds (rates).
Works are prioritised for regular maintenance or construction according to the shire’s works program, or by need as in storm damage, etc..
The shire applies for government funding either directly or through regional alliances.
An example is State Road Funding for Local Governments distributed through Regional Roads Groups (RRG).
Money derived from heavy vehicle registrations and fuel levy/km is reserved specifically for roads.
The WA Local Government Association (WALGA) advises the State Government of a fair contribution of State Road Funding, which local governments receive through the RRGs.
The funding received from Wheatbelt North RRG for the Avon Sub-branch (York, Northam, Goomalling and Toodyay) is divided equally – 25 per cent each.
Funding is sought annually by the group by agreement on a joint application.
Extractive industries annually contribute to a shire Road Contribution Reserve to offset wear and tear on the roads their trucks use.
The amount is calculated and agreed to within their Development Approval conditional to their Extractive Industry Licence.
The shire’s cash contribution comes from rates, either directly, or indirectly from shire reserves set aside for specific purposes.
Consequently, some grant funding can be estimated in the budget and Long-term Financial Plan.
Series of failures
What has led to this situation is a series of failures – a failure to budget sufficient funds for roads and a failure of the assumptions used to justify the expenditure on Toodyay’s new recreation centre.
Since 2013, the cost of local government supplies has eroded our works budget but was not offset by an increase in the shire’s contribution.
The shire’s February 2017 “Business Case for the Toodyay Sport and Recreation Centre” (February 2017) justified the cost of the project based on a set of assumptions.
These included anticipated population growth, property sales, capacity to put aside funds, and rate increases.
Assumptions not realised
It was apparent by the 2019-2020 budget that most of the assumptions had not been realised.
Although building the centre was achieved within budget, management costs were under-resourced.
The State-wide Covid-19 Emergency Directive caused shire revenue to be further reduced by mandating a zero rate rise and rates concessions.
As it costs more to rebuild rather than maintain our road networks we are obliged to remedy the roads budget.
Our only options are to attract more revenue or to increase rates.