Alpine Shire waiting for disaster to be declared so it can access funding

A BLEAK VIEW: Bushfires could be seen burning from Bright's Pioneer Park Recreation Reserve last week. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE
A BLEAK VIEW: Bushfires could be seen burning from Bright's Pioneer Park Recreation Reserve last week. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE

Alpine Shire is still waiting to find out if a disaster will be declared for the municipality.

That move would provide the north-east Victorian council immediate access to a $1 million federal grant and give residences access to welfare funding.

Towong and Snowy Valleys were among the councils to have a disaster declared two weeks ago after the devastating bushfires, but pressure has been mounting for Alpine to be added.

Mayor Peter Roper said he believed the state and federal governments would make the call soon.

"I haven't heard anything as of yet," he said.

"We haven't had official confirmation we're going to get it, and that's what we really want. It allows people to apply for the Newstart Centrelink allowances."

He encouraged residents in need to still apply for the emergency welfare payments, so if the disaster is declared, the money will come through quickly.

Evacuation orders were issued by the CFA in recent weeks for safety, causing businesses to close and people to be out of work.

"The waiting is a pain, but there's not much we can do about that," Cr Roper said.

The Victorian government is also under pressure to announce rate relief for North East residents and businesses that will be under financial stress when either rebuilding homes or dealing with a loss of tourism.

Shadow Local Government Minister Tim Smith

Shadow Local Government Minister Tim Smith

Shadow Local Government Minister Tim Smith visited Wodonga and Corryong yesterday, where he called for rates in these areas to be waived completely for two years and for the government to pay councils the money instead.

"It's a significant amount of money for people who have potentially lost everything and I don't think it's fair," he said.

"Frankly it's wrong that if someone has lost everything - lost their house, lost their property, lost their business - it's just downright wrong that the council goes and levies rates on them."

He said the move would cost the Victorian government millions of dollars, but argued that was not excessive.

While he did not say what would be the specific threshold for businesses, Mr Smith said people whose homes burnt down or who lost a vintage due to smoke taint at their wineries should be among those to not pay rates for two years.

He said Victoria set a precedent by providing rate relief during the drought, and the bushfires effects were either on par or worse.

Towong mayor Davd Wortmann welcomed the suggestion, saying he understood the financial pressure on residents, but the council needed its income from rates.

"We've never had such a high amount of high-quality agricultural land be affected by bushfires and the damage in the Upper Murray is just enormous," he said.

"Rates are very important to maintain our infrastructure.

"Now with the rebuild after the fires, money is going to be very tight, so if the state government could support us in offering rate relief, I'm sure our ratepayers would appreciate it."

Benambra MP Bill Tilley said it was important for farmers to focus their finances on rebuilding fences and infrastructure, and continuing to make strong contributions to the economy by getting their livestock to market.

He said it was councils that would lead the fire recovery and they needed support.

"For the North East particularly, it makes perfect sense for the state government to support the people at the coal face who have to deliver the recovery. It's not a big ask," Mr Tilley said.

"This fire is in stark contrast to the 2009 fires because of the widespread damage and destruction of pasture."

This story 'Waiting is a pain': It feels like a disaster, but that's not official first appeared on The Border Mail.