A community hall for the Rainbow Flat area has been identified as a priority on MidCoast Council's bushfire recovery program.
A local meeting place is seen as a key step in the recovery of the Rainbow Flat community, council's director of liveable communities, Paul De Szell said. The need for a hall was highlighted post-bushfires when community meetings had to be held at the local service station forecourt.
Councillors have praised the work of MidCoast Council staff on the bushfire recovery program and report presented at council's May 13 strategic meeting.
Cr Len Roberts described the report as an "excellent document" when he moved a vote of thanks to the staff.
The report was prepared by Mr De Szell to "advise council and the general public of the bushfire recovery grant funding received by council and how it will be spent in the future."
It is well recognised that the health and well-being of residents affected by the 2019 bushfires has sufferedMidCoast Council's Paul De Szell
MidCoast Council has received a total of $2,580,385 from three separate funding sources.
In January, council was allocated $1 million from the federal government's Bushfire Recovery Fund, with a further $416,667 being allocated in March. This was in addition to $250,000 under the community resilience and economic recovery fund, administered by the NSW Government, and $913,719 under the bushfire-affected coastal waterways program, administered by the federal government.
A total of 121 homes were destroyed in the bushfires that ripped through the Mid Coast last November.
Community halls program
Council's program of works includes a community halls program which aims to ensure all halls are upgraded so they have sufficient water, electrical and other infrastructure to support their local community if and when another emergency occurs.
Mr De Szell explained that when a number of the Mid Coast's more remote communities were significantly impacted by bushfires, community halls not only became a place of evacuation but the last remaining building. The halls were used to establish food, water and ice distribution and provided a safe place for displaced families.
Each hall and community has different needs and an audit of some 45 halls will be conducted, with priority given to those in bushfire affected areas.
Mr De Szell said the community halls program does not specifically relate to council-owned infrastructure. Many halls are owned by the Crown or by Trust on behalf of the community.
"In this instance ownership has not been the key driver but rather the incredible value that local community halls provide their communities, not just in an emergency but at all times."
Bushfire recovery officers
Two bushfire recovery officers are currently being employed on a job share basis, since December 2019, and council proposes to use grant funding to extend the employment of these staff up until December 2020.
Mr De Szell said these officers work with experts as part of the rebuilding effort and in the future, they will work with experts to develop disaster preparedness and community resilience programs.
A portion of the funding, $40,000, has been used to support combined Lions and Rotary clubs' drought and bushfire recovery events which brought communities together post bushfires. Mr De Szell said unfortunately these events had to cease because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The events had the theme of getting community members past their front gate to encourage them to mix and socialise as a first step in the recovery process. This enabled shared experiences to be discussed as well as different recovery challenges and journeys."
Disaster preparedness initiatives
New disaster preparedness initiatives that build council and community resilience are in the pipeline.
"It is well recognised that the health and well-being of residents affected by the 2019 bushfires has suffered," Mr De Szell said.
"It is also recognised that developing disaster preparedness initiatives and building community resilience positively influence health and well-being.
"Council is currently developing programs in each of these areas to support all communities in bushfire affected areas."
Funding will be used to implement these programs across the Mid Coast, he said.
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