A LONG-AWAITED upgrade to Colac’s Central Reserve faces a funding crisis.
Civic leaders have put more than half of the project on the backburner after changes to a Federal Government program struck at the heart of their funding model.
Colac Otway Shire Council hoped to receive $4.9 million to improve the Gravesend Street reserve, which included $2 million for a grandstand redevelopment.
The money was to come from round two of the Federal Government’s Regional Development Australia Fund.
But changes to the RDAF have forced the council to slash its short-term plans for Central Reserve.
New rules mean applicants must match any cash they receive from the RDAF, on a dollar-for-dollar basis.
The change has forced the council to slash the upgrade from $4.9 million to $1.25 million – half coming from the RDAF with the rest coming from council-sourced cash.
The $1.25 million would go towards a surface upgrade, new netball courts and lights for night football and netball matches.
But a grandstand redevelopment, digital scoreboard, legends’ plaza, public amenities, a playground and landscaping remain in the pipeline.
Colac Otway Shire Council chief executive officer Rob Small said the dollar-for-dollar rule would hurt small rural councils wanting to upgrade their infrastructure.
He said few rural councils would be able to put up half the cash needed for major projects.
In the case of Central Reserve, the council would need to find $2.3 million.
“It does mean that smaller communities will find it harder to get projects up because it’s more difficult for rural shires to find the money to subsidise those projects,” Mr Small said.
“We know it’s unlikely we’ll get that larger amount, which was the promise initially,” he said.
“The services of both the netball courts and the ovals are the first priorities for us, with the sand carpet surface, we can get much more usage on it,” he said.
Mr Small said the council would seek other grants to fund the rest of the upgrade.
He said the next federal election, not due before August next year, could be another avenue to secure cash.
“It could be as one of those things we promote in an election round, and in a marginal federal seat, that’s something which might be able to occur,” he said.
“We’ve really said now that’s not going to fly and we’ve put up a project that’s going to have a much better chance.”
Mr Small said he would find out in early 2012 if the application for $625,000 to the RDAF was among three in the Barwon south-west region to progress to the next stage of selection.
MP defends changes to funding program structure
FEDERAL Member for Corangamite Darren Cheeseman has defended changes to a government funding program.
Mr Cheeseman said the government made round two of its Regional Development Australia Fund a dollar-for-dollar program to get value for its investment.
He said round one of the program made $150 million available for regional Australian infrastructure projects, and received applications worth “10 times that amount”.
The dollar-for-dollar rule has put parts of an upgrade to Colac’s Central Reserve at risk because Colac Otway Shire Council cannot put up half of the project’s $4.9 million cost.
Mr Cheeseman said he was aware the rule change would put pressure on small rural councils, and had told Federal Sports Minister Mark Arbib of his concerns.
He said the change was so the government could “maximise the dollar it gets for its investment”.
“The principle is if councils are prepared to put money into a project themselves, it indicates they are really committed to the project,” he said.
“That’s important. At the same time we do recognise that the dollar-for-dollar arrangement is a challenge for small councils, particularly councils like Colac Otway Shire.”
Mr Cheeseman said the RDAF allowed land and in-kind work to be part of a council contribution.
He said he was a strong supporter of the project.
“We think it’s a really important project. We’ve been working with the council to develop an application,” he said.
“We have been really involved in the whole project and are very committed to the project.”