PORT Macquarie-Hastings Council will move to borrow a $25 million shortfall to progress the Ocean Drive duplication road project to construction tender.
The borrowings will be supplemented with $5 million from council reserves in a bid to protect a $60 million state government funding agreement.
The decision came after lively debate about the dangers of opting to finance one of the region's biggest road projects in isolation.
The decision to borrow funds for Ocean Drive will impact other major council road projects, Cr Peter Alley said.
A call has gone out to the state and federal government to get onboard and work in partnership with council to invest in major network-wide road infrastructure projects into the future. These include the upgrade of the Boundary Street airport connection, Lake Road and John Oxley Drive duplications, all listed as priorities.
Cr Alley successfully moved to put borrowing for the Boundary Street airport access upgrade on hold, but only after designs are complete and it is "shovel-ready". Detailed designs are due to be completed by June 2022 at a cost of $900,000.
The $14.5 million to be borrowed for that project will lessen the blow on borrowings required for Ocean Drive and open the door for alternative funding discussions with all levels of government, he said.
"Debt financing is one of the tools we have available to us to take on important projects," Cr Alley said.
"We've taken on projects like the construction of the Glasshouse in that way, however we do need to manage our overall debt levels in a way that is long-term responsible and not going to burden the community with high levels of debt as we move into the future.
"As soon as you incur a debt, it needs to be repaid and it impacts on the services we can deliver in the next year and year beyond that."
Council is planning to upgrade around 3.4 kilometres of Ocean Drive from two lanes to four lanes between Matthew Flinders Drive to Greenmeadows Drive (south).
The state government's funding commitment is capped, made up of a $10 million special grant following an election commitment in 2011 and a further $50 million announced before the 2019 election.
The council has committed $5.5 million to the project to date.
Mayor Peta Pinson did not agree with holding Boundary Street works up until further funding could be sought, but supported Cr Alley's motion to borrow $25 million just to get work on Ocean Drive moving.
"We are shovel ready for the Ocean Drive duplication. We've sat on our hands and the cost of this project has gone up year after year after year," Cr Pinson said.
"We haven't been agile, we haven't responded and today is the day that we do. We draw a line in the sand and we make a pledge for $25 million and we move forward.
"This project has been left wanting for over a decade. We need to borrow not just for the community today, but for future generations.
"I do not want such an important decision made by this council to be diluted or confused by other projects.
"This road is owned by the community. I truly believe, and have the utmost confidence, the Federal Member for Cowper will make good on his promise to ensure that we are before the deputy prime minister of Australia Michael McCormack to talk about funding opportunities through the federal government."
Cr Alley pointed out that 75 per cent of the road network in Australia is managed by local councils, however councils can only contribute about 20 per cent of the required road funding needed.
"We rely on the crumbs that fall from the federal and state government. We need big crumbs to fall as we move forward," he said.
Just attending to Ocean Drive alone won't fix the problem, it just moves it a little bit further down the road.Cr Geoff Hawkins
Cr Geoff Hawkins said it is important the community understands Ocean Drive is just one part of a larger road network, with substantial traffic challenges, under the responsibility and management of council.
"Essentially what we have before us is a great opportunity. It's a turning point," he said.
"It's only now with the last offer of the state government that we can seriously consider (Ocean Drive). However, for us to consider it as a stand alone (project) it doesn't address the real problems that everyone in our community knows about.
"Just attending to Ocean Drive alone won't fix the problem, it just moves it a little bit further down the road.
"It would make the problem at Lake Road ... more challenging and more difficult."
Deputy mayor Lisa Intemann congratulated council CEO Dr Clare Allen for clearly outlining the road network and associated funding challenges faced by council with local MPs.
"This was a lightbulb moment for our members of parliament," Cr Intemann said.
"This is more than about Ocean Drive, it is about how council funds projects like this. It is important related matters are transparently made clear to the public and other key stakeholders."
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