Council on bare bones
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.”