Whittlesea council has had a change of heart over funding for the Whittlesea Country Music Festival, allocating $40,000 for the event in its 2019-20 budget.

The council shocked the festival’s volunteer committee in March when it decided to axe funding for the annual event, which attracts country music fans from across Victoria and Australia.

The council had been providing $70,000 a year to the festival for 19 years.

The Whittlesea Country Music Festival was one of six events to have its recurrent funding cut to allow the council to introduce a new event funding program.

The new program will offer funding in two categories. Category one funding will provide up to $2000 to small neighbourhood gatherings, while category two funding will provide up to $20,000 for larger events.

Applications will need to be made annually, with the Whittlesea Country Music Festival eligible for up to $20,000.

The country music festival committee said the future of the event was uncertain following the funding cut.

Whittlesea Country Music Festival

James Blundell performed at the 2017 Whittlesea Country Music Festival. (Supplied)

FUNDING CUT: Whittlesea Country Music Festival loses council funding

But last week, councillors voted to include $40,000 for the 2020 festival in the council budget, following a submission from the festival committee, letters of support from community groups and a petition signed by 108 local businesses calling for funding to be reinstated.

The committee had asked the council to provide it with $210,000 over three years.

Cr Emilia Lisa Sterjova said funding for the festival had been a contentious issue.

“It was never my intention as an individual councillor not to allocate funding to that festival,” she said. “I absolutely see the huge array of benefits it provides to our community, particularly to the Whittlesea township, making it such a wonderful tourist destination.”

Whittlesea Country Music Festival committee vice-president David Watson said that while the committee was grateful for the $40,000, the need to apply for funding annually would harm the festival.

“The process of applying for a budget submission and subsequent grant application adds layers and time to festival planning and we will be unable to book and secure artists and commence festival planning until our funding is 100 per cent secured,” he said.