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Council budgets for road maintenance in Victoria and NSW eroded by wet weather damage

Councils across Victoria and New South Wales say the cost of dealing with road repairs during persistent wet weather is wreaking havoc on local budgets. 

Communities across both states are already feeling the impacts of recent wet weather, with flooding occurring in a number of areas, and water storages spilling for the first time in years.

The Bureau of Meteorology declared a third La Niña weather event in a row last month, while its most recent climate summary stated that October to December rainfall was likely to be above median for the eastern half of Australia.

Towong Shire Council Mayor Andrew Whitehead said there were already significant costs in dealing with the local road network in Victoria's north-east.

"It’s probably somewhere in the vicinity of $4 million a year we have allocated to road maintenance," he said.

"In a wet year like that, will it be enough? Probably not, but we know we just have to do the best we can with what we've got.

"Otherwise, we have to start thinking about allocating money out of other budgets, which is never popular."

Funds reallocated

One local government that has already had to move funds about for road repair is Yarriambiack Shire Council in Victoria's west.

The council this week agreed to reallocate $417,000 from its capital works program to seven dirt and bitumen roads that had either deteriorated or become unsafe due to recent downpours.

The funds were initially set aside to upgrade nine rural roads in the area.

Mayor Kylie Zanker said those roads would still be safe to drive on.

"Unfortunately for those people who have been really excited about their road being done, it will be happening, we just needed to defer it to fit other roads in," she said.

"The next budget period is what we are looking at."

Significant costs in NSW

Across the border in New South Wales, Federation Council Mayor Patrick Bourke said three years of above average rainfall had taken a big toll on their road systems.

He said the cost of dealing with the issue was massive.

"As a council at the moment, we're taking about $9 million in rates and we're spending about $8 million on roads," Cr Bourke said.

"We heavily rely on grants and government assistance to keep our roads in a reasonable condition."

Cr Bourke said the council was also applying for a special rate variation to help deal with road repair challenges over the coming years.

"We believe we've got a shortfall of about $4 million that should be going in extra to our roads every year," he said.

Calls to reinstate road program 

Cr Whitehead said he wanted to see the Victorian government reinstate the Fixing Country Roads program to help councils deal with the costs of road maintenance.

The program ran during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 financial years and helped deliver more than 220 local roads projects for councils across the state.

The ABC understood the program was only intended to run for two years. 

A Victorian government spokesperson said $780 million was being invested towards maintaining and renewing the state's arterial road network for the current financial year.

"Over the past four years we have averaged $813 million per year on road maintenance compared to an average of $493 million per year when the Coalition were last in office," the spokesperson said.

"Since 2014, we’ve rebuilt or resurfaced more than 12,000 kilometres of our state’s roads to ensure their quality and safety.

"We have another 1,000 projects currently being delivered this maintenance season."

Victorian Department of Transport Regional Transport chief Paul Northey said the state was experiencing greater defects and more potholes along regional roads due to the recent wet weather.

"Our crews and our contactors are working very hard to be able to fix those as quickly as possible, with a view to starting our planned maintenance program, the $780 million program, as soon as we get warmer and drier conditions," he said.

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