Emo­tions run­ning high as Coun­cil pre­pares to hand down bud­get

Whitsunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Sharon Small­wood

WHIT­SUN­DAY ratepay­ers can ex­pect to pay sig­nif­i­cantly more in rates and charges af­ter Whit­sun­day Re­gional Coun­cil hands down its an­nual bud­get next week.

Ex­actly how much in­di­vid­u­als from around the re­gion will pay will de­pend on whether Coun­cil’s pro­posed $140 ma­jor projects levy is ap­proved.

If this is the case, ratepay­ers will pay the levy plus a small rate rise. If the levy is not passed, rate rises are ex­pected to be sig­nif­i­cant to make up the short­fall.

Pre-bud­get is­sues and the state of Coun­cil’s fi­nances were the sub­ject of emo­tion­ally charged ad­dresses by CEO Scott Wa­ters and Mayor Jennifer Whit­ney at yes­ter­day’s or­di­nary Coun­cil meet­ing in Proser­pine where the Com­mer­cial-in-Con­fi­dence Queens­land Trea­sury Cor­po­ra­tion (QTC) re­port was pub­licly re­leased.

Mr Wa­ters broke down in tears at the board­room ta­ble and Cr Whit­ney said the pres­sure had aged her by 10 years.

Cr Whit­ney said min­is­te­rial ap­proval was re­quired to re­lease the QTC re­port.

“And it’s not some­thing we re­ally wanted to do, but the thing is, there is spec­u­la­tion out there in the com­mu­nity by in­di­vid­u­als... and we need to let them know what the is­sues were,” she said.

Mr Wa­ters said he was ini­tially “pas­sion­ate” about not re­leas­ing the re­port be­cause of the ram­i­fi­ca­tions for the pre­vi­ous term of Coun­cil and par­tic­u­larly mem­bers of staff.

“[The re­port] hasn’t named names, but it’s named po­si­tions. It’s a small town and we all know who those peo­ple are,” he said.

Mr Wa­ters said cer­tain “fi­nan­cial wiz­ards” had been putting their take on Coun­cil’s po­si­tion with­out hav­ing all of the rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion to hand.

He said it was only six weeks af­ter the hand­ing down of the 2012-13 bud­get that Coun­cil found it was $20mil­lion short to fin­ish the fi­nan­cial year – a fig­ure that blew out to $25mil­lion af­ter a sub­se­quent in­ter­nal au­dit.

“Peo­ple – staff – were go­ing to lose their jobs. The pres­sure has been absolutely huge,” he said as he fought back the tears.

Cr Whit­ney took over, say­ing the sit­u­a­tion had been trau­matic, try­ing and frus­trat­ing and while the eas­i­est op­tion would have been to hand over to an ad­min­is­tra­tor, the re­gion would not have been able to grow.

She said the bud­get was go­ing to be “a dif­fi­cult time for us” with no op­tion other than to knuckle down and re­pay the multi-mil­lion dol­lar emer­gent fund­ing from State Govern­ment, as soon as pos­si­ble.

The 2013-14 bud­get is ex­pected to be handed down on Wed­nes­day, July 17. Ratepay­ers can ex­pect to re­ceive their rate no­tices in early Au­gust. A full copy of the QTC re­port is avail­able for view­ing on the Whit­sun­day Times web­site.

UN­DER PRES­SURE: Coun­cil's CEO Scott Wa­ters and mayor Jennifer Whit­ney made emo­tional speeches about the state of Coun­cil's fi­nances at yes­ter­day's Coun­cil meet­ing.

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