Recovery in financial stress

Fallen trees still remain piled high in Silvan. Pictures: STEWART CHAMBERS. 252445_03

By Mikayla van Loon

It’s been four months since those frightfully unprecedented storms occurred in the Yarra Ranges and the recovery efforts have really only just begun.

The council has identified 135 private homes that sustained significant damage due to the storm event and 74 of those have been assessed as being uninhabitable.

The kerbside tree branch collection has been underway in recent weeks, with most of the urban areas now complete but only six per cent of this green waste has been collected in the Valley and none has been collected in the Hills.

Online forums have been held to establish what needs to be improved should another event like the one seen in June should occur.

The telecommunications improvements to ensure reliable connectivity during emergencies, as well as electricity and NBN services was a key feature of these meetings.

While these are positive steps in the right direction, the council, in particular councillors Catherine Burnett-Wake and Johanna Skelton, are concerned about the lack of government funding to ensure recovery efforts are completed.

The current estimate of storm recovery is $65 million, of which Yarra Ranges Council has received $3.5 million.

Having submitted five business cases to apply for funding streams in areas such as branch kerbside collection, recovery structure, road rehabilitation, green waste disposal and bushland recovery works, the council has been unsuccessful in receiving additional funding.

Cr Burnett-Wake said it is not the responsibility of the council to “burden the cost of disaster.”

“While we are grateful for the support received and the commitments made to date, it’s clear that an enormous shortfall remains and we are not receiving any firm answers or advice on what relief we can expect,” she said.

“This is not good enough. In my view, the State government is letting us down. Our communities are still very much impacted by the storm event. What we’re asking for is not unreasonable.”

The items most in need of financial support are telecommunications, assistance for residents so they can clean up their properties before the fire season, assistance for residents who have to rebuild so they know the planning specifications for their land, mental health support after a major event and business support.

“There’s growing concern at the lack of announcements and this is creating pressure on our financial sustainability to the point now needing to consider slowing or stopping important recovery activities, or even reducing our services for the broader municipality,” Cr Burnett-Wake said.

“These are scary things to think about, but we’re gonna have to think about them and act if we don’t get funding.”

Cr Skelton echoed her fellow councillors concerns but stated that she wasn’t sure how the council was expected to make any more decisions about other areas of council duties without an informed knowledge of what funding would be provided by State and Federal governments.

“We need that information so that even if the money doesn’t come now, we need to know what will come because without it, I don’t see how we can continue making well informed decisions,” she said.

Cr Burnett-Wake said to even have to consider halting services particularly during Covid-19 is hard to contemplate.

“It’s just unfathomable but the reality is we’re going to have to think about these things and make some really tough decisions.

“It’s just not good enough that it is falling on our shoulders. We need the State government to step up. We need urgent help.”