Coun­cil on bare bones

South Burnett Times - - SOUTH BURNETT BUDGET - He­len Speli­tis he­len.speli­tis@south­bur­nett­

A GEN­ERAL rate rise of 2.75% is the low­est since the amal­ga­ma­tion of South Bur­nett coun­cils, de­spite an in­crease in over­all costs this year of 8%.

Fund­ing cuts from the Fed­eral Govern­ment, ag­ing in­fra­struc­ture as­sets and gen­eral in­fla­tion for ser­vices has left re­gional coun­cils in a tight spot.

Mayor Wayne Kratz­mann said it had taken more than four months to pre­pare the bud­get be­cause staff had scru­ti­nised costs in ev­ery de­part­ment to keep the rate rise as low as pos­si­ble.

“We even looked at things like pho­to­copiers, could we save money by buy­ing them in­stead of leas­ing them, (and) right down to pa­per, ask­ing if it is re­ally nec­es­sary to print a 50-page re­port,” Cr Kratz­mann said.

Elec­tric­ity was another area the coun­cil looked to make sav­ings, en­sur­ing power use was min­imised across the five main of­fices.

“The dif­fer­ence be­tween putting rates up by 8% (the ac­tual in­crease in costs to coun­cil) and the 2.75% rate in­crease was made by cut­ting costs in each de­part­ment,” Cr Kratz­mann said.

Ag­ing in­fra­struc­ture is a bur­den on coun­cils with min­i­mal funds set aside to cater for un­ex­pected costs – most re­cently the Mur­gon Pool.

Work on the pool’s kiosk and change rooms are pro­jected to cost be­tween $450,000-$650,000 and that up­grade bill will be funded by post­pon­ing up­grades to the Mur­gon CBD.

The bud­get pre­dicts a sur­plus of $661,677 for any other un­ex­pected costs and ac­cord­ing to Cr Kratz­mann fund­ing ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture will be dif­fi­cult with no sav­ings to rely on.

“Most of our ma­jor pieces of in­fra­struc­ture, like pools and wa­ter treat­ment plants, are over 60-years-old, so un­der­stand­ably they are fail­ing in health,” he said.

“The idea is if a project is worth $25 mil­lion and pre­dicted to last 50 years then coun­cils should be putting away $500,000 each year.

“The is­sue is no money was put away over the years by the other coun­cils.”

Fol­low­ing fund­ing cuts from the Fed­eral Govern­ment, South Bur­nett Re­gional Coun­cil has been forced to fund 79% of its own op­er­a­tion, com­pared to 60% just two years ago.

Lo­cal coun­cils have only two main av­enues to raise rev­enue – through rates and fees and charges.

And while the reap­pear­ance of the $200 road levy may be un­favourable for ratepay­ers, Cr Kratz­mann said with­out it up­grades to coun­cil-owned roads would not be pos­si­ble.

“The re­al­ity is we just can’t do the work peo­ple want with the levy be­cause it pro­vides funds we used to get from the govern­ment,” he said.

“If we were to get rid of the road levy, that would be $3.5 mil­lion in road works that we wouldn’t be able to af­ford.”

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