A recent influx of government grants will boost Cessnock City Council's 2020-21 capital works program to a record $40 million by the next quarterly budget review.
The council adopted its annual operational plan last Wednesday night, with a budget of $97 million (including $11.69 million worth of state and federal grants) and a small surplus.
Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent said it's an "exceptional plan" that will provide a boost to the local economy at a time where many in the community have felt firsthand the financial impacts of COVID-19.
"The $30 million capital works program will have positive flow-on effects for our community, local businesses and local jobs," Cr Pynsent said.
"There's more good news to come at the next quarterly budget review which takes into account more grant funding recently announced, including a $6.6 million grant secured for the upgrade of Cessnock Airport.
"This project has the potential to create nearly 60 jobs and could see up to $32 million injected into our economy over time.
"Our success in gaining grant funding has increased our ability to deliver for our community and kick start infrastructure projects that inject much needed funding into our economy."
Other grant-funded projects that will proceed under the 2020-21 plan include the next stage of works at Bridges Hill Park (including public amenities and improvements to the car park and pedestrian access); the Kurri Kurri Commercial Centre upgrade; more tourist signage in Hunter Valley Wine Country; the replacement of Yango Creek Bridge at Wollombi; the third stage of the Gingers Lane upgrade and the replacement of the roundabout at Hart Road and Government Road at Loxford.
This is the final operational plan to deliver the objectives and plans identified in the council's four-year Delivery Program (2017-21).
Labor councillor Darrin Gray commended the plan: "To deliver a balanced budget in these extraordinary times is a remarkable achievement, when other councils in our region are recording record deficit," he said.
The operational plan passed 10 votes to one, with independent councillor Ian Olsen voting against it.
Referring to a survey that was conducted during the exhibition period, Cr Olsen said he could not vote for a plan that was not supported by residents.
Of the 71 residents who took part in the online survey, 54 per cent did not support the overall direction of the operational plan.
Cr Olsen was also concerned that council would have to contribute $2.1 million for the airport upgrade, which has not been budgeted for.
"That's going to be a big hole to fill," he said.
Liberal councillor Paul Dunn, who was absent from Wednesday's meeting, said he would have voted for the plan but said "long-term reform" is needed.
Cr Dunn was concerned that council's reliance on grants to balance its budget would lead to a "hand-out mentality".
"We have to live within our means, but there's no point in budgeting for failure without adequate long-term reform," he said.
"We can't have a hand-out mentality with no solid reform.
"It is a long-term issue but we can't keep putting it off.
"We need full council support for reform, not just partisan support, but there has to be an appetite to do it."
Council has applied the full rate peg amount of 2.6 percent (determined by IPART), and will continue to offer assistance for ratepayers experiencing payment problems due to COVID-19.
- Read the operation plan at council's website.