Heated dis­cus­sions as Coun­cil talks about new rates and charges

Whitsunday Times - - LOCAL NEWS - By Sharon Small­wood

WHIT­SUN­DAY Re­gional Coun­cil has started round-ta­ble talks with com­mu­nity stake­hold­ers and ratepay­ers about the ef­fects of its 2013/14 bud­get.

Just one hour was al­lo­cated for a pre­lim­i­nary meet­ing in Bowen last week at­tended by rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the re­gion’s cham­bers of com­merce, and tourism and eco­nomic or­gan­i­sa­tions.

The meet­ing was also at­tended by ex­ec­u­tives of the newly formed Whit­sun­day Re­gional Ratepay­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (WRRA).

With such a short time to dis­cuss ma­jor is­sues in­clud­ing the new twopart wa­ter tar­iff, ma­jor projects levy and Coun­cil’s debt, many at the ta­ble ques­tioned what Mayor Jennifer Whit­ney hoped to achieve.

“This is the start of more than likely more meet­ings – it’s not go­ing to solve ev­ery­one’s is­sues here to­day,” Cr Whit­ney said.

The meet­ing kicked off with a wa­ter pre­sen­ta­tion by Bowen-based ratepayer Chris Mon­sour, which was fol­lowed by an over­view of the new two-part tar­iff by Coun­cil’s di­rec­tor of cor­po­rate ser­vices Gra­ham Jarvis.

Coun­cil’s CEO Scott Wa­ters then de­liv­ered an over­view of the “one re­gion” 2013/14 bud­get.

“We are in ex­tra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances,” Mr Wa­ters said, be­fore go­ing into fur­ther de­tail about Coun­cil’s multi-mil­lion dol­lar un­funded debt through the flood dam­age pro­gram and over-am­bi­tious com­mit­ment to ma­jor projects in an un­re­al­is­ti­cally short time-frame.

Mr Wa­ters gave as­sur­ances that Coun­cil had im­ple­mented aus­ter­ity mea­sures and put cor­rec­tive ac­tions in place “across the board” to bring the re­gion back on track as quickly as pos­si­ble.

How­ever, when the ques­tion-an­dan­swer ses­sion be­gan, it was clear that for many around the ta­ble this was not enough.

Bowen Collinsville En­ter­prise trea­surer Dave Ne­baur was one of sev­eral peo­ple who begged Coun­cil to iden­tify as­sets for sale and rene­go­ti­ate the terms of its loan with the Queens­land Trea­sury Cor­po­ra­tion (QTC).

Mr Ne­baur said the small busi­ness com­mu­nity in the Whit­sun­days was “go­ing out back­wards” and that the 2013/14 bud­get was “the straw that will break the camel’s back”.

He also begged Coun­cil to en­gage more with the brain power in the room.

As the Whit­sun­day Times went to press yes­ter­day a sec­ond meet­ing was un­der­way in Bowen af­ter Cr Whit­ney said she took th­ese com­ments on board and agreed to fur­ther con­sul­ta­tion.

She did how­ever say that at this stage the bud­get would not change.

CON­TRO­VER­SIAL: There were heated dis­cus­sions last week as coun­cil­lors and the com­mu­nity dis­cussed the new rates and charges.

UN­DER THE PUMP: Whit­sun­day Re­gional Coun­cil CEO Scott Wa­ters giv­ing an over­view of the bud­get.

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