BUDGET TO BITE
All ratepayers to be hit with $140 levy and a rate rise
IT WAS a divided Whitsunday Regional Council that handed down its 2013-14 budget in Bowen yesterday.
The budget, including an average rate rise of about $126, a major projects levy of $140 and increases in the utility charges including water, sewage and garbage collection, was a bitter pill for mayor Jennifer Whitney and her six councillors to swallow.
While councillors Jan Clifford, Kevin Collins and John Collins voted with the mayor to bring down what was described as a “tough budget”, councillors Andrew Willcox, Dave Clark and Peter Ramage voted against it, resurrecting what Cr Kevin Collins called the “north/south divide”.
In one of several passionate speeches, Cr Kevin Collins said increasing rates to pay for too many ambitious projects, committed to in the previous term of Council, was hard for a newcomer to accept.
“I came to Council hoping to do some nice things for people and instead I’ve got to hide my head when I walk home today, thinking what have I just voted for,” he said.
However, Cr Collins accepted he also had to be “one of the adults in the room and say we can’t use the credit card anymore”.
Cr Andrew Willcox argued desperately that there must be another way to recover Council’s debt. Likewise, Cr Dave Clark begged for Council to renegotiate the terms of its loan agreement with the Queensland Treasury Corporation (QTC).
Cr Whitney conceded that what her councillors were being asked to vote on was “devastating” but she told them, “you either want to be a councillor or you don’t” and she urged them to “be a part of the solution”.
After the meeting, Council’s CEO Scott Waters addressed the waiting media, explaining that Council believed its $140 levy was the fairest way of sharing the burden. Mr Waters said rate rises would be unlikely to recede but a levy could be removed once the debt was reduced.
Cr Whitney said where pos- sible, Council had retained rates assistance options and would be able to offer pensioners a remission on general rates of up to $300.
A five per cent discount for payment of rates within 30 days now applies. It has been reduced from a 10 per cent discount. Cr Whitney said the new two-part tariff for water charges was expected to be a fairer system across the region on the basis that people would pay only for the water they consumed.
Rates notices will be sent out in early August. More information is available on Council’s website www.whitsundayrc.qld.gov.au.
UNDER FIRE: Whitsunday Regional Council’s chief financial officer Matthew McGoldrick was called upon to answer questions about discrepancies in figures for employee on-costs. He is pictured at yesterday’s meeting with Council’s director of corporate services Graham Jarvis and director of planning and community Dan Staley.
BITTER PILL: Cr Kevin Collins delivered a passionate speech about what he called “a move to reject the budget” by some other councillors.