Ordinary Council Meeting - 26 June 2014
LATE AGENDA Page
9 General Manager Report
AUTHOR/ENQUIRIES: Grant Nelson, Strategic Planner
The purpose of this report is to provide comments to a submission received regarding the proposed 2014/15 Environmental Levy Budget.
1 Council receive the late submission from the Nambucca Valley Conservation Association.
2 That Council adopt the Environmental Levy program for the 2014/15 financial year as proposed in the Council report dated 29 May 2014 with an amendment to reduce the total amount of Heritage funding to $9,250 with matching subsidies.
3 That in future years the exhibition of the operational plan and delivery plan be accompanied by a report detailing the projects proposed as part of the Environmental Levy.
Council may choose to re-exhibit and defer the environmental levy program until a future date.
Council received a submission from the Nambucca Valley Conservation Association to the Delivery and Operational plan regarding the expenditure of the Environmental Levy funds [attachment 1].
The key objection raised in the submission is:
‘…that the Environmental Levy funds should only be spent on projects which have a measurable benefit for the Natural Environment’.
The submission raises specific concerns in relation to Levy Funds being used to support:
- Council’s Heritage Program
- Macksville Streetscape Revitalisation
- Weed Management Program (chemical use and wages)
- Dredging of the River.
The submission also requests funding be considered for a part time Natural Resource Officer position and indicates the levy has been unsatisfactorily exhibited and requests the Levy program be deferred and subject to separate exhibition process.
The report to Council dated 29 May 2014 discussed the strategic direction of the Environmental Levy and indicated the following:
For some time the Environmental Levy has been used to prepare reports and documents to support environmental conservation and social wellbeing. Over the last 10 years the Levy has funded, Estuary Study and Management Plans; Flood Studies; Coastal Hazard Studies; Coastal Zone Management Plan, and Nambucca River Masterplan. Now that direction has been provided by these studies and plans the Levy funds have been more focused toward on-ground works that support the actions identified in these plans.
Funds will continue to be allocated to state and federal programs that are offering funds or resources with an aim to leveraging the outputs of the levy. This is discussed further below.
There is continual debate regarding the use of the Environmental Levy as a fund for projects providing natural environment benefits only. However, for several years as indicated above the Environmental Levy has funded projects that also benefit other aspects of our environment and community wellbeing, the flood program and the Nambucca River Masterplan being key examples. Other projects such as the River Street improvements in Macksville have focused on our living spaces.
As indicated in the report to Council on the 29th May it is proposed to continue to focus the levy on attracting funds from external funding sources to leverage the application of the Levy. It anticipated that the implementation of the Levy will continue to find a balance between natural resource projects and projects that benefit community wellbeing in the urban environment.
In relation to the specific items identified in the submission the following comments are provided:
On the 29 May 2014 Council resolved to accept the Heritage Advisor funding offered by the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) to continue with the Heritage Program. Due to an administration error by OEH, staff were not aware that an offer had also been made regarding the Heritage Fund until it was due to be accepted. To meet the deadline staff accepted both funding offers ($4,250 Heritage Advisor and $5000 Heritage Places).
Council may choose not to accept the second part of the heritage fund and OEH will be notified accordingly. However as reported on 29th May 2014, the program is worthwhile and is expected to gain momentum as landowners become more familiar with it. Bellingen LGA has had its successful program in place for 17 years and has proven success. Similar programs have operated in other LGA’s for decades. The program assists in conserving the Shire’s heritage and also contributes to the appearance of the public/private domain in our towns. Should Council not wish to fund this program through the Environmental Levy it will be difficult to identify another funding source.
The total funding required from the Environmental Levy to support the program is $9,250 ($4,250 Heritage Advisor & $5000 for Heritage Places) for which matching subsidies will be received from OEH. This is less than anticipated as such the budget is proposed to be amended accordingly.
Macksville Streetscape Revitalisation:
The budget shows this funding being provided by the General Fund, not the Environmental Levy. Future levy allocations will propose funding to assist in the revitalisation of the Macksville with a particular focus on street trees or other actions that have environmental benefits.
The Environmental Levy budget includes $66,200 which contributes to Councils Weed Management program. The program has had proven success in natural resource management over the several years and has also attracted external funds from Natural Resource programs such as the Clean Energy Futures Biodiversity Fund.
The program complies with current relevant standards and guidelines and the program is affiliated with the North Coast Weeds Advisory committee and operates in accordance with the NSW Weeds Action Plan. Council considered a report on the Review into Weeds Management on 27 March 2014 and resolved the following:
186/14 Resolved: (Hoban/Flack)
1 That Council acknowledge the proposed changes to weed management may have effect on the funding and statutory/regulatory functions that currently exist for Council.
2 That Council lobby the Local Government Association to be regularly updated on any correspondence or changes to the draft recommendations implemented by the Natural Resources Commission.
3 That Council acknowledge the importance of local identification and treatment of weeds but also acknowledge that there needs to be a regional approach to management and control in order to achieve the best result.
4 That Council respond to this report in regards to the issues raised in the report to Council.
5 That Council receive a six monthly report on the activities of the Noxious Weeds Inspector.
It is not considered necessary to amend the Levy Budget allocated to Council’s Weed program. As previously resolved the program is being monitored by Council.
Dredging of the River:
A separate report has been prepared in this business paper regarding the dredging of the Nambucca River. The report recommends that the information and the potential costs related to any future investigations be noted.
Natural Resource Officer:
The submission also suggests a Natural Resource officer would be of most benefit and best fit for funding under the Environmental Levy. This matter was also discussed in the report to Council on the 29 May 2014, and indicated the following:
‘Since the position of Environmental Compliance Officer was made redundant, $56,000 has been made available in the Environmental Levy to offset staff salaries involved in the management of the Environmental Levy.
An additional allocation of the $10,000 has been proposed to assist in the management of the Environmental Levy projects. This allocation may be directed to Environmental Consultants, Engineers or other experts such as Nambucca Valley Landcare to manage specific projects on behalf of Council as necessary.
During deliberations regarding the 2013/14 budget Council resolved to consider a part time/full time Natural Resource Officer position to assist with the implementation of the Environmental Levy in the 2014/15 year. Assistance to implement projects within the levy would be well received, however, it will detract from funding available in the levy for projects. Following discussions with the General Manager the proposal has been put forward for a $10,000 allocation for project management utilising contractors with appropriate expertise.
The previous allocation for the Environmental Compliance Officer was approximately $78,000. Should Council resolve to add this as a budget item to the Environmental levy other items would need to be removed.
At present approximately $153,000 of the environmental levy is directed to annual funding programs such as the Dog Bags; SOE reporting; cleaning GPT’s and the $56,000 to offset staff salaries. An additional $78,000 to the budget would increase the annual programs to $231,000 leaving an estimated $130,000 to allocate to specific projects and grant funding.
As budgets are reviewed and projects are proposed or subsidies received, a part time Natural Resource Officer position will continue to be considered for operational purposes. Should Management consider the position be a potential funding action through the Environmental Levy it will be reported to Council along with an amendment to the Levy program.
Exhibition of the Operational Plan
The Environmental Levy constitutes part of Council’s Delivery Program and Operational Plan, as does other works and programs such as the water fund, contributions funds or the works program. A draft Environmental Levy budget was exhibited with the Delivery Program and Operational Plan as required. A report was prepared to Council on the 29th May 2014 explaining some proposed variances to program to be adopted at the end of the exhibition period.
Both documents are considered public information and available for persons interested to comment on the draft budgets. A separate report has been prepared with this business paper on the exhibition of the Delivery and Operational Plan. The only submission received to exhibited material was the submission which this report addresses.
It is recommended Council adopt the budget as proposed to Council’s meeting on 29 May 2014 with changes to reduce the budget allocation to the heritage program.
It is not considered necessary to re-exhibit the budget which would cause delays to the implementation of the Levy Program.
Council may resolve that in future years a brief report describing projects proposed through the environmental levy program for that financial year accompany the exhibition of the delivery program and operational plan so persons wishing to comment specifically on the Environmental Levy projects are better informed as to the purpose and scope of the individual projects.
Staff are presently awaiting a number of grant applications which may result in additional changes to the Levy Program. Upon receipt of the outcomes of these grants a report will be prepared for Council to either accept the subsidy or re-allocate the levy funds.
To demonstrate the changing nature of the levy program it is noted that in the short period between the commencement of exhibition of the delivery program and operational plan, four (4) potential changes or actual changes to the program have been identified based on Council resolutions or offers of funding. These are noted below:
· A draft budget was prepared including an allowance for de-sexing of animals at Council’s pound which Council later resolved not to fund from the environmental levy
· The office of Environmental Heritage offered Council $120,000 to finish Vegetation mapping and undertaken koala habitat mapping if Council contributes an amount to the project ($10,000 allocated), Council resolved to proceed with this project
· The funds offered by OEH for the heritage places program was less than anticipated
· Council has recently received advice that NSW State Forests will be offering 50:50 funding to clean up illegal dumping areas in state forests which will be subject to a future report to Council once details of costing and logistics are identified.
Assistant General Management Engineering Services
The environmental levy is Council’s main source of funding to support environmental management and conservation.
A number of programs within the environmental levy have been undertaken or are proposed which contribute to the health and wellbeing of the community or improve urban environmentls. Many projects have the overlapping benefit to both the environment and community.
The Environmental Levy provides the main source of funding for environmental projects and this funding is used as leverage to support grant applications. For the 2013/14 financial year the levy budget was increased by 57% through successful grant applications.
Nil, the Environmental Levy is aimed at providing positive outcomes for the environment and the community.
Should Council resolve to re-exhibit the proposed levy program it will impact on the time frame to implement the program and place additional pressure on staff to meet program time frames and deadlines.
Direct and indirect impact on current and future budgets
The budget allocations are identified in the body of this report and discussed in more detail in the report to Council on the 29th May 2014
Source of fund and any variance to working funds
Variations to budget allocations would be reported to Council as necessary.
Service level changes and resourcing/staff implications
Councils Strategic Planner has been overseeing the implementation of the Environmental Levy program.
17561/2014 - NVCA submission to delivery program and environmental levy
Ordinary Council Meeting - 26 June 2014
Submission to Environmental Levy Budget 2014/15
The General Manager
Mr Michael Coulter
Nambucca Shire Council
PO Box 177 Macksville 2447 NSW
Re: Environmental Levy: 2014/15 Distribution of funds
I write on behalf of our Association regarding Council’s upcoming decision regarding the distribution of the 2014/15 Environmental Levy Funds.
There is one basic principle we feel we shouldn’t have to ask for again and again every year – that is that the Environmental Levy funds should only be spent on projects which have a measurable benefit for the NATURAL environment.
Examples of such projects which go against this basic principle include:
W2268 - HERITAGE ADVISOR - 8,500 -67% Environmental Levy
50% (Heritage). 50% subsidy
W2267 - HERITAGE GRANT FUNDS 17,000 New Item Environmental Levy 50% (Heritage). 50% subsidy
This is for the renovation of heritage buildings and is unacceptable to come from the Environmental Levy funding.
MACKSVILLE STREETSCAPE REVITILISATION - - 50,000 New Item to match grant funds as they become available
understand some of this would be street trees but much would be infrastructure
so therefore we can only support the part that pays for the street trees coming
from the EL fund.
We oppose any EL funds being spent on chemicals for weed management or weed inspector wages. When the EL was brought in it was not designed to replace core existing Council responsibilities. If EL funds are to be used for any wages we believe a part time natural resources officer would be of most benefit and best fit for the purpose of the EL funds. This is a massive $145,000 and makes a mockery of the word “Environment” in the Environment Levy which the public believes to be helping the environment. If weed eradication was done manually or with slashing we would not oppose it . So many of our roads, next to which the chemical weed eradication is done, run along the edge of waterways. Heavy rains simply wash the chemical into waterways to their detriment.
No EL funds should be spent on dredging the river. It is inappropriate to dredge our naturally shoaling river for the sake of a few people who use small boats but have aspirations of bigger boats private business operations. (as identified in the Nambucca Estuary Study and Plan) We all know that any dredging would have to be repeated at enormous costs every few years to maintain the dredged channel making the exercise futile and a short sighted waste of ratepayers money should any be spent on such a project. Dredging has absolutely no environmental benefit and in fact causes untold harm to the river and its sea grass beds so important as fish nurseries.
It has been most unsatisfactory that this year like last year council has failed to produce a stand alone environment levy program report for council which could then go on public exhibition. Having numerous line items buried in the body of the budget has made public scrutiny of the EL program inadequate. The words “Environmental Levy” are not even mentioned in the advertised (on Council’s website) document and only appear late in the document as a note about various line items. This is hardly giving “the public” a fair chance to become aware of and exercise their right of comment.
Finally we request that the decision on Environmental Levy proposed funding for 2014/15 be deferred until a stand alone document setting out the proposed spending and the rationale for such spending be publicly exhibited under the title of “Environmental Levy Report: Proposed spending for 2014/15”.
Thank you for your attention to our submission
(signed copy by mail)
June 22, 2014