This year's rate rises, which will hit many rural residents by about 8 per cent, were a contentious issues in Gympie regional Council's chambers today.
This year's rate rises, which will hit many rural residents by about 8 per cent, were a contentious issues in Gympie regional Council's chambers today. Contributed

Curran, Fredman, Hartwig, Stewart respond to council budget

MAKING the right decisions for Gympie or price gouging from ratepayers?

These were two of the key positions taken by Gympie's councillors today as they voted 6-3 to adopt the 2019-20 budget.

Below are some of the statements made in support and against this year's financial package during the debate at today's Gympie council ordinary meeting.

Gympie mayor Mick Curran's budget speech

Mayor Mick Curran at Rattler return launch.
Mayor Mick Curran. Scott Kovacevic

"As our region continues to grow, it is imperative that we plan for our future and thrive as a region, and the 2019/2020 Gympie Regional Budget will deliver this.

"The budget process was challenging for councillors, and the decision was made to run a deficit operational budget due to rising costs.


"Council chose to not pass on the full implication of these costs to our rate payers. However, it did create great discussion, and I thank each and every councillor for their contribution.

"As a council, we looked at what is important to us and our community. What will make our community a better place?

"Also forecasted is a net positive result of $4.2 million. However, a budget isn't just about figures.

"Our budget is about what we need to do today to ensure our region continues to grow, and what we deliver supports our community and paves the way for future generations.

"There was a time when council budgets were about rates, roads and rubbish and these are still core aspects of this budget; but we as a council and a community are so much more.

BIG BROTHER: Council graders like this one will have GPS units installed in them to make sure they are being used properly. All of council's fleet will have GPS units installed over the next three years.  
Photo Matthew Newton / The Guardian
Road maintenance has received $21 million in financial support this year. Matthew Newton

"Having said this, roads, pathways and bridges have been allocated $21 million. This includes over $8 million for road maintenance, a $2.9 million bridge program and $2 million for road resurfacing.

"The cost of living is challenging; that in mind, council is dedicated to keeping rates at a reasonable level and have reduced the proposed 2 per cent rate increase down to 1.8 per cent with almost half of our residents paying up to just $1 more per week.

"The 10 per cent early payment discount on general rates continues, as does the pensioner rebate.

"We will continue to look at the 'whole picture.'

"Liveability, social planning, economic development - and importantly working with all levels of government to secure federal and state funding.

"Tourism viability, environmental issues and community events that build social connection are all funded by this budget.

"This budget and the decisions that we make is not about being popular. It's about making the right decision for our community and our future.

"As a council, we are committed to ensuring what we do remains relevant and improves the experiences of those who live, work and play within the Gympie region.”

Cr Glen Hartwig

Gympie Councillor Glen Hartwig.
Councillor Glen Hartwig. Tom Daunt

"This budget is the culmination of three years overspending on projects that have taken council away from the core business that supports the local business and economic drivers of the region.

"In 2016 during budget deliberations I made the statement that we could not keep spending as we are without a large rate rise being imminent.

"As the CEO said today 'we have to have a very serious look at our costs'.

"In 2017 I again repeated the same message and raised concerns that we were falling away from the basic council roles, particularly roads.

"This was the year the council embarked on the 'ride of our lives' with the free money spending on the Rattler.

"In 2018 I again stated that the spending could not continue without a large rate rise.

From David Marsh, 0458 734 156       pic taken at Gilldora 06/10/18.Here's my second train pic for you.............Inaugural run of the Mary Valley Rattler as she passes through Gilldora, south of Gympie.Cheers
From David Marsh, 0458 734 156 pic taken at Gilldora 06/10/18.Here's my second train pic for you.............Inaugural run of the Mary Valley Rattler as she passes through Gilldora, south of Gympie.Cheers

"That year Cr (Mark) MacDonald agreed and stated during the budget hand down that a 'significant rate rise was coming'.

"This budget has the hallmarks of consistent overspending and a failure to deal with the need to fulfil our basic and core functions at a high standard.   

"To continue to spend as suggested in this budget and do noting to replace the funds that have gone out of the organisation is in my opinion irresponsible.

"For the first time in this term as a councillor I have seen staff with a consistent and direct message to councillors: You can not continue the same spending patterns without a large rate rise or you have to seriously cut costs. 

"In my opinion two promises have lead to this this financial position: 'Under my leadership the Rattler will run' and a promise for 'CPI rate rises'.  

"The Rattler's financial woes read like a train wreck and need no explanation.

"The CPI commitment for rate rises would be sensible if intelligent spending that delivered strong growth and financial benefits to the community, had been targeted.

"Whilst we love the Rattler and feel nostalgic about steam the $20-25 million in real costs and the $1-2 million to keep it going haven't delivered the boom of Chinese tourist and economic stimulus promised.

"CPI rate rises can be promised only when targeted conservative spending habits have been consistent throughout a term. This has not been the case.

MONEY: If you are expecting a part Age Pension, you should consult your financial advisor.
Cr Glen Hartwig says ratepayers are being left to carry the burden of council's overspending. Koldunov

"When money is spent that requires massive amount of funds to keep it going CPI rate rises are pipe dreams.

"Last year to keep the notion of CPI rate rises for the Majority of residents, rural land holders were targeted with a change in the Rate in the Dollar, to allow increase in rates collected.

"This was a deliberate act to target a particular group of rate payers whilst protecting the larger group of city rate payers.

"This years due to land valuation increases the rural land holder will feel the sting again.

"Instead of reversing the rate in the dollar change to compensate for this valuation increase, rural land holders will be feel the full compounding effects of the increase from last year and land valuation of this year.

"This is what happens when someone promises CPI increases but is not prepared to match spending habits.  

"Someone eventually pays and it has been the rural landholder for the last two years - at a time when the road network is as my neighbour described, 'the worst he has ever seen it'.

"It's time to get back to basics.

"Reserves are good for council, particularly this council with large road networks, and high natural disasters impact.

"Having some money in the bank for a rainy day is actually relevant to this council.

"Conservative financial management had this council at the top of the list for suitability.

"Now we have a deficit and dwindling reserves.

"The forward predictions are no money left by 2022 and a $6 million hole the following year.  

Aerial view of the Gympie Aquatic Recreation Centre (ARC) with solar panels visible from the roofs.
The Gympie aquatic centre. Contributed

"Spending on projects that have a strong return for the community are worthwhile, using reserves or borrowing for projects that create economic momentum and jobs is intelligent spending in my opinion. 

"Just for rate payers understanding, the alleged net surplus is not a surplus in the sense that the $4 million is there and can be put in the bank.

"That surplus is already spent next year.

"Already allocated to capital projects that can't be finished this year. In other words this budget aims to spend all we collect from rate payers and another $9 million from reserves.  

"So what does that mean in laymen's terms?

"We run a deficit of $5 million, we get $9 million from the bank account throw it through the books and spend it this year and next year.

"And next year we project to add more from reserves to keep the boat afloat until there is nothing left and we are $6 million in the red.

"This budget fails to stop the chronic overspending and fails to deal with the need for a large rate rise due to overspending.

"You can't have to both ways, either cut spending and live within out means or spend on infrastructure that delivers a strong return for the rate payer.

"Sadly as much as I love steam heritage, the rattler is a large white elephant that requires a lot of rate payer peanuts to feed it.

"I cannot support this budget or the spending habits of the last three years.”

Cr Dan Stewart

Gympie councilor Dan Stewart.
Councillor Dan Stewart. Renee Albrecht

"I support the budget with reservations.

"I have been saying for a number of years that we need to consider the whole cost of projects when they come to us, not only the up front cost.

"Our current budget reality is that we have not taken into account the life-time cost of projects.

"While many celebrated the state's gift of various railway assets, I warned at the time that such gifts come at a cost of ongoing maintenance, renewal and upgrade.

"I will continue to raise concerns about our revenue and spending, to help ensure that we maintain reasonable reserves and are generally in operational surplus.

"A result of budget realities is that we need to increase rates.

"While the rate in the dollar has increased by CPI (1.8 per cent), it needs to be acknowledged that new land valuations will result in a significant number of people have to pay a larger increase in rates.

"I have already proposed that council investigate our current differential rating system.

Gympie Library
Gympie Library. Troy Jegers

"It may be that some areas pay to much and other areas do not pay enough compared to others areas.

"This is not about what the total Council should charge in rates.

"It is about comparisons between different rating categories.

"It is pleasing to see funding for roads has been maintained.

"Those affected by flooding on Noosa Rd (floods before Kidd Bridge floods) will be pleased there is funding for the sealing of the flood bypass via Feros Rd.

"As a stronger believer in the need to support a healthier community I welcome the continued funding for the building of the River to Rail Trail (mainly state funded) as well as various sporting facilities and parks.

"I also firmly believe council has an important role in providing a high quality library service.

"This is a basis for improving education for our younger people, and providing a safe community place for people of all ages.

"Thus I am saddened the building of a new library has been out for some years.

"On the other hand, I applaud the continued financing of this vital service, including its outreach to children in the community.”

Cr Bob Fredman

Councillor Bob Fredman. Gympie Regional Council
Councillor Bob Fredman. Renee Albrecht

"Mr Chairman, I have some serious concerns.

"I cannot accept that it is fair for us to increase our income, which comes direct from ratepayers, by a whopping 6 per cent.”

"The CPI is currently running at about 1.5 per cent, and the statistics continue to show our region has a very low average family income.

"And our rates are comparatively high already.

"I do note that the increase in rates for the majority of urban residents is a fair 1.8 per cent, and that there are many worthwhile things in the budget.

"But that's the end of the good story.

"The budget proposes that most ratepayers who live out of town will face an average of 8 per cent increase.

"This is on top of last year's big rate rise for these same people.

"Further, nearly all primary industry ratepayers will cop an average of 20 per cent increase.

"I believe these proposed rate increases are, in one word, obscene.

"These way out of proportion increases have conveniently occurred because of revaluations.

PRIMARY producers and small business owners from various enterprises shared their knowledge and learnings as part of the Future Farmers workshop. Photo Toni Somes / Warwick Daily News
Primary producers can expect to be hit by an average 20 per cent rate rise, Cr Fredman says. Toni Somes

"However we could have decreased the rate in the dollar to compensate, just as easily as last year when council increased the rate in the dollar for these same people.

"To assume that ratepayers who choose to live outside our towns, and who don't get water or sewerage, are happy to absorb such rate rises again is plain wrong.

"The increase is nothing short of price gouging.

"And this is at a time when people who live out of town perceive there has been no increase in the level of service they receive for their roads.

"It's equally disappointing we have been relatively silent on this rural rate rise.

"In the Draft Budget Overview headlines we referred to rises of 2 per cent, which is only applicable to half of the ratepayers.

"As I said on my Facebook page, I don't think many people read past that.

"As a consequence of this windfall, council is now awash with extra money.

"Where is it going?

"We have been told a major new cost is staff wage increases.

"Other cost increases which we blame in our Round-up magazine (toilet cleaning and animal management), are a bit of a red herring as they relatively minor in the scheme of things.

"I note there is another million dollars for the Rattler and its associated projects.

"In my opinion we don't have a mandate to take so much more from ratepayers, especially rural people.

"We have an obligation to make responsible decisions.

"We should have lowered the rate in the dollar and done some much needed belt-tightening instead.

"I will be voting against this budget.”