Anger as bushfire funds used to upgrade preschool
QUESTIONS have been raised about using Federal bushfire relief funds to upgrade a local preschool.
The Lower Bucca Community Preschool has been allocated $78,784 for the refurbishment of existing amenities and an undercover area.
The funds come from the $1M allocated to Coffs Harbour City Council from the Commonwealth Government's bushfire relief package.
Locals like Helen Schlangenotto were shocked and angered to hear of this and to learn the preschool had previously applied for these funds from Council but were knocked back.
She was one of the residents who attended a public meeting on January 28 at the Nana Glen Community Hall to discuss the allocation of funds.
"Nothing was said about funds for the preschool at the meeting. The whole purpose of the meeting was all a bit ambiguous. It was all a bit confusing really," Ms Schlangenotto said.
"The preschool wasn't event fire affected. I think Council just thought they could allocate these funds and nobody would notice and they would save themselves some money.
"Seriously, what planet are they on."
Ironically she was scheduled to address Council last Thursday on the matter but was flooded in.
"My access to Coffs Harbour was cut along Ellems Quarry Road as well as Coldwater Creek Bridge on the Orara Way from Tuesday night until Thursday early afternoon with debris and minor landslides on some embankments along the road."
Councillor Paul Amos has described the inclusion of funds for the preschool as a kind of "pick me up" for the whole community.
"This is a great little facility in the Valley and the money will see the area come closer to the level of amenity offered for our residents in town," Mr Amos wrote in an email responding to Ms Schlangenotto's concerns.
"When it rains it is deafening on the tin roof, the kids get drenched and the only refuge is the tiny hall...this is completely unsuitable.
"The staff have professionally presented to full council and been very proactive. It should be noted the fireys used the school as a refuge in the recent events."
In addition to the preschool funds, the interim program of works includes $50,000 for a community-led recovery event.
"That's a lot of sausage sangas," Ms Schlangenotto said.
One item that's been widely welcomed is the $150,000 for the appointment of a 12-month community recovery officer.
But what some locals want to see is funds being used for road and infrastructure restoration. Some suggestions include upgrading McPherson's Road bridge and full bitumen sealing of Ellems Quarry Road.
Coffs Harbour City Council General manager Steve McGrath has explained that Council has until April 9 to develop a full program of works for the $1m.
"Investigations will be undertaken into the upgrading of roads and environmental restoration in the Orara Valley," Mr McGrath said.
"Among the more long-term projects discussed at the Nana Glen Community Meeting were ideas such as improvements to existing infrastructure, a community hub safe place and an emergency equipment storage facility.
"Some other suggestions will be considered as part of ongoing Council and State Government services."
A dedicated 'Bushfire Recovery Program' online resource with links to available assistance for affected residents and businesses has also been developed following the meeting in Nana Glen. It includes a survey asking for more recovery ideas to encourage continued engagement with the Orara Valley and wider community to work through the best use of the remaining $583,216 of the $1m funds.