Winners and losers from this year’s council budget
EVERY budget brings its fair share of celebration and pain, and Gympie council’s proposal for 2020-21 keeps that tradition alive.
Here are the groups who will have something to love or something to loathe should this budget be adopted at tomorrow’s meeting.
Rural area ratepayers
THE past two years have been easy to describe in terms of a TV Show: Farmer wants a break.
Not that farmers were the only ones feeling the pinch, though, with rural landowners joining them in being slugged at higher rates than elsewhere in the region.
In 2018, residents in areas like the Mary Valley were hit with rate rises of about 10 per cent.
Then to compund the pain, new land valuations in the booming region slugged them again to the tune of at least 8 per cent.
This opened the door on a hot debate over whether the council should have tweaked the rate in the dollar to alleviate the pain.
No such debate this time around with rural residential and primary production ratepayers spared any sort of rate rise.
A HOT, dry summer out west was made worse by the sudden closure of the town’s pool in January.
Those wanting to cool off needed to take a 26km bus trip to Kilkivan, which of course, necessitated a 26km trip back.
And this was on the back of a water disaster which forced the council to truck it into the town for weeks on end.
No wonder residents started to question where, exactly, their rates money was being spent.
Those questions are headed to the backburner for now, though, with $500,000 to to bring the pool back to life and $300,000 more for other infrastructure.
Fans of the colour black
HOT on the heels of public criticism of its spending habits, the council trotted out a 2019-20 budget forecasting five straight years of operational losses.
Compared to this year’s, you’d be forgiven if you thought one document was written on chalk and the other on cheese.
We’ll get to how this happened shortly.
Now it’s true balance isn’t everything.
Councils, like any government, can and will occasionally slip into deficit.
Four deficits in five years (and another five to come) can hardly be called “occasionally”.
It would be more correct to say the council occasionally ran a surplus.
And good luck finding a PR company willing to run with that tag line.
This budget aims to flip that script.
NOW to how the budget was balanced: a 3 per cent rate rise for most home owners.
Painful in the current climate.
But not unexpected either.
As far back as 2017 and again in 2018, coast councillor Mark McDonald - hardly someone you would put in the “Team Hartwig” camp if you were arguing the existence of voting blocs - flagged large rate rises were on the horizon.
In fact, his exact words in 2018 were “there’s going to be a council that comes in and says ‘we’ve got no money’ and hits the ratepayer”.
Suitably warned its financial Nav-man was directing them over a cliff and not to the promised land, the council’s response was to jam the accelerator to the floor.
Cue 2020, and council has to borrow money thanks to it not having enough cash left in the bank to run the business.
Even with plans to slice so much fat from the bone you’d starve, there was never a doubt the public would be left to pick up the pieces of this mess.
SPEAKING of cutting the financial fat there’s no doubt some will come at the expense of council staff.
Some corners of the community will cheer redundancies but it shouldn’t be forgotten these people have families.
In an ideal world they won’t happen.
Unfortunately, their wages are now being paid for by a growing number of residents who - thanks to COVID - no longer have jobs themselves. So sympathy might be scarce.
Talk about messy; and a clear signal to the new council that financial recklessness can cost more than just your own seat at an election.