Roads toll stands at $79m
By ANDY PARKS
LISMORE'S roads need $79 million worth of work to get them to a 'satisfactory' standard and another $7.3 million a year to maintain them.
Lismore City Council currently spends $5.1 million a year on maintaining roads and the $2.2 million shortfall was reported to councillors at a workshop earlier this month.
"It confirms what some of us have been saying for years; that our roads are dangerously under-funded," Cr David Tomlinson said.
"There is a cargo cult mentality within council, even at the senior management level. They believe someone will come down from somewhere with a big bag load of money and all the problems will be solved and meanwhile we'll just get on with other stuff."
Cr Tomlinson said the figures come from a report the council commissioned two years ago as part of an asset management plan.
"The idea was to look at our roads, see what state they're in, how long they are going to last and how much it would cost to maintain them."
He said the situation was particularly bad for people who have to drive on the 400km of gravel roads in the shire, about a third of the entire road network. The council allocates $1 million a year for maintaining gravel roads, a figure that hasn't gone up since 2001 despite costs going up by more than 30 per cent in that time.
"You don't have to be a genius to forecast the results. Service levels on gravel roads have had to be slashed. In this year alone grading will have to be cut by 16 per cent and gravel resheeting by 20 per cent."
Cr Tomlinson said the council was spending too much on 'frivolous' things such as the CBD beautification and other projects that were not necessarily its responsibility.
He also singled out the memorial baths which is expected to lose $1 million a year, and the Goonellabah Recreation Centre which is expected to lose more, as projects that were taking away from roads spending.
"Every time somebody pays $3 to go for a swim at the Memorial Baths the ratepayers are putting in $10.
"We have an annual rate increase of 3.6 per cent to maintain services, and what we have been doing is scooping off the top of that to spend on other stuff."
Lismore mayor Merv King acknowledged that the cost of maintaining roads was a problem for councils everywhere.
"It's a big issue and always will be. We're always hoping Federal or State money will come along, but it's hard for all councils. We've got a lot of good roads and some not so good.
"We need to spend money on roads, but you can't spend all your money on one thing. We have a budget and it's always one of the main items."