Community & Business

4 July, 2023

Rising costs key factor in Budget

COST of living pressures, increases in materials and rising costs to deliver services, and a growing need to upgrade its core infrastructure were the critical factors behind Tablelands Regional Council’s 2023-24 Budget, handed down on Thursday.

By Robyn Holmes

Rising costs key factor in Budget - feature photo

COST of living pressures, increases in materials and rising costs to deliver services, and a growing need to upgrade its core infrastructure were the critical factors behind Tablelands Regional Council’s 2023-24 Budget, handed down on Thursday.

  • $119.2M balanced budget
  • 3.85% rate rise
  • Rates discount cut to 2.5%
  • $46.3M capital works
  • Water usage rises 23c/kl
  • $72.9M operating budget

Councillors were collectively supportive of the $119.2 million balanced budget, with every one describing it as one of the most difficult and challenging budgets to strike to date, and most referring to the recent review of organisation’s services as a crucial move for the future sustainability of the council.

Mayor Rod Marti said successive significant rises in land valuations across the local government area had proved difficult to manage, with council deciding to average out the valuations over a three-year period to “help blunt the increases” for ratepayers.

“With very significant valuations arriving so soon after the last valuation event, and a stubborn CPI, the budget has been a major challenge for us,” he said.

“To lessen the impact of high valuation increases, council will calculate the rateable value by averaging property valuations over three years, 2021–22, 2022–23 and 2023–24.

“Averaging is not the sharpest tool, but it is one of the few available to councils when dealing with land valuation spikes of this scale.”

Residential ratepayers will see a 3.85 per cent increase in their annual rates but coupled with the council’s decision to halve the early payment discount from five per cent to 2.5 per cent, effectively means those who usually pay on time will actually pay 6.35 per cent more.

“We understand this will have an impact on those ratepayers who do pay promptly, however it’s a decision that’s allowed us to keep rates lower,” Mayor Marti said.

Referring to the 3.85 per cent rise, he said 84 per cent of residential ratepayers would only pay an additional $78 a year in rates.

Annual rates for primary producers and graziers, which have been hit hard by rising land valuations, will, on average, increase by 5.55 per cent, or $205 per annum, and 3.5 per cent or $454 per annum respectively.

In addition to the rise in rates, there will be increases across the board for water access (up by 5.4 per cent) and usage (up by 23 cents per kilolitre to $1.35/kl) sewerage access (up by 5.4 per cent) and waste services (up by 5.3 per cent).

“These charges are essential to support operating activities and prepare for facility upgrades that are already in sight,” Mayor Marti said.

The Budget allows for $46.3 million in capital works to drive ahead improvements in the council’s core infrastructure, with $15.5 million for roads, bridges, footpaths and drains, including $4 million to complete council’s obligation to upgrade its section of Ootann Road.

Also included in the figure is $2.6 million for road pavement rehabilitation, $2.4 million for bitumen re-sealing, $3.7 million for gravel re-sheeting, and $1.5 million for bridge and major culverts.

The Ravenshoe Water Quality Improvement Plan has been allocated $14.7 million for the water treatment plant and pipelines to Millstream, while there is $1.9 million for wastewater and $20.5 million for water in total.

“There’s $3 million for parks and gardens, and $2.4 million for the progression of the Priors Creek Development and the all-inclusive living amenity it will activate for the Tablelands,” Mayor Marti said.

“This most significant capital budget is designed to enhance the liveability of the region, capitalising on our growth and in turn bringing more opportunity. It seeks to consolidate this critical moment.”

In the $72.9 million operational budget, $21.9 million has been allocated for roads and bridges, $9.4 million for water, $6.4 million for waste, $3.1 million for parks and gardens, $11.6 million for community buildings and $5.9 million for wastewater.

Mayor Marti said the organisation had its work cut for itself managing 1700km of roads, performing 7000ha of mowing and 3400 barbecue cleans, responding to 18,000 customer requests, collecting 7000 tonnes of waste and delivering 2,700,000kL of water.

“Our development and building approvals are incredibly strong, our population has never grown quicker, and major investments like the Atherton Hospital, Kaban windfarm and Mulungu’s Midin Clinic are signs of confidence and future growth in the Tablelands,” he said.

“So we need to fully appreciate that TRC is a key growth enabler that’s doing more than it’s ever done, and as a collective we’re providing the absolute best service we can from the resources we have, for our community.”

The council currently has $4.86 million in borrowings, primarily against the Malanda and Ravenshoe sewerage plants.

“Council is expecting to undertake further borrowings in the coming years as it undertakes upgrades to the Ravenshoe and Atherton water treatment plants, and Atherton sewerage treatment facilities,” Mayor Marti said.

What they said about the budget

Deputy Mayor Cr Kevin Cardew

“The cost of living has been going through the roof, and land valuations have gone through the roof, we all know that ... so dealing with that has been challenging. It hasn’t been easy but it’s a balanced budget which I think is a good outcome. Over the last couple of years, land valuations haven’t done the rural sector any favours whatsoever and, this time around, we’re trying to soften the blow using the tools that are available to us. There are still lots of challenges ahead of us and we now have the service review and are in the process of delivering that and hopefully in the coming 12 months we can make a big difference with our service levels, improve them and be in a good position for a new council coming in.”

Cr Dave Bilney

“To state that it has been the most difficult to compile would be an understatement. High inflation, rising interest rates and generally the cost of living is trending upwards and continues to place pressure on financial resources that are required to deliver core council services. Council will dedicate more funds into roads, bridges and culverts... there will be an increase in spend by 11 per cent a year on year... allocated to support our longer-term commitment for asset protection and renewal. Council should continue to prioritise expenditure on renewals and upgrades... we are acutely aware that we are faced with substantial and unavoidable upgrades to our water and waste infrastructure in coming years.”

Cr David Clifton

“It’s not perfect but it sets up future councillors – they will have a really good platform to step into. It’s practical and reflective of listening to the residents and I think it leaves a positive legacy for the future... underpinned by the service planning review. I want to compliment the CEO for his instigation of the service review and the implementation program which means when it comes to February 2024, a lot of the changes will have been considered. An important aspect of our operations is with the agricultural sector and we have averaged the valuations which is a significant step in recognising the difficulties they had had, and we’ll also be taking motions forward to the LGAQ for negotiations with the State Government about future valuations.”

Cr Annette Haydon

“It will be the last budget some of us will deliver... out of the 19 years I have worked on council budgets, this is one budget I have struggled to support. Just because we can doesn’t mean we have to. In the 2023-24 budget, it is the greatest disappointment to me the increases the council is asking residents to pay for. This will create more hardship on the locals who are already struggling with cost of living, inflation and recent interest rate rises. I do not feel, as a councillor, that I’ve had much input into the capital works but we have landed in a place we are today with some positive outcomes.”

Cr Peter Hodge

“It’s my final budget as a councillor, and I believe this gives the new council a great platform to move on. I’m happy that we were able to agree to a balanced budget and a slight surplus going forward over the next two years. Probably one of the great things that we have achieved as an organisation is that the forecast for our cash position in our first budget was to be $16.7 million in our 2025-26 budget – but today, in this budget, you will see its (cash position) is predicted to be $57 million. I want to congratulate the CEO and managers for they’ve done – we’re in a good position.”

Cr Bernie Wilce

“I thank the CEO for his leadership – we have had a good robust debate and generally we come up with a fair compromise and, to me, this is going to be the most important document that we adopt in this term. The budget is very responsible and considerate and proper regarding our ratepayers who have gone through some very challenging times. I have no doubt that our constituents will receive the increases we have determined and be relatively happy with the way we are moving forward.”


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