Council’s financial chaos puts Rattler at risk
THE future of the Mary Valley Rattler has become hazy, with concerns swirling about the cost of the heritage venture as Gympie Council struggles to balance its books.
In the past two years, the Rattler Railway Company has recorded an $849,000 loss – almost four times higher than what was originally forecast in the 2016 business case.
Last year it reported only $754,000 in assets compared to $1.6 million in liabilities.
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This, combined with the council’s fight for financial stability, which may include job cuts and borrowing money just to keep itself from collapsing, has raised questions about whether the council can still afford the train.
In an ABC interview about the Rattler Railway Company’s financial position on Wednesday, vice chairman Garry Davison said the train’s viability was not as bad as was being painted.
He said more than $1 million of the liabilities were from a council loan to the heritage train.
“Effectively over a million dollars of the asset deficiencies … is the council owing itself money,” he said.
“When you take that out … our operating situation is certainly not as dire.”
Still, some changes were on the cards.
“We’ve certainly got a plan that would allow us to operate far more effectively than we have in the past,” he said.
This include cuts to the 23 full-time equivalent staff – but Mr Davison declined to be drawn on the exact number of cuts until it had been put to the council.
But he said he did not think the Rattler’s future was under threat.
“Tourism on the Sunshine Coast is looking at the Rattler as a different type of opportunity,” he said.
“The important point to remember about the Rattler is it brings about $10 million into our economy every year,” Mr Davison told the ABC on Wednesday.
“It’s hard to put a finger on where that $10 million goes, but that … goes to all of our local businesses.”
Mayor Glen Hartwig, who has been critical of the multimillion-dollar blowout by bringing the train back to life, said the train did have a community benefit but was sceptical of how much.
“Personally when any organisation or politician trumps out numbers … most of the time they’ve run around with a compressor and pumped them out,” Mr Hartwig said.
This had to be balanced against the cost to a council left scraping for financial scraps at the bottom of the barrel thanks to a recently revealed culture of sub-par financial management.
And the exact ongoing cost of the train to the council after its $17.5 million resurrection is still unknown.
Mr Hartwig said the new council was still “digging up all the numbers”.
Other sources said the council was pumping at least $800,000 each year into the venture. This included $300,000 for sleeper replacements.
But with council staff holding genuine concerns its cash could run dry and the possibility of it being forced to borrow until the next rates were issued, Mr Hartwig said it was possible there would be no funds available for the Rattler regardless.
“Every dollar we put into the Rattler will be money that comes out of the bank,” he said. “The challenge right now is balancing the budget, and understanding what ways we can make that business more viable.
“It’s not a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater … but when you're taking money from a bank to fund a loss-making enterprise you have to ask: is it value for money, or are there means available that limit the liability to the ratepayer?”