27 July, 2022
Shire opts for ‘responsible’ budget
A $36.7 million capital works program and a 2.5 per cent rate rise were the two key points of what was described as a “responsible” budget handed down by Mareeba Shire Council last week.
Mareeba Mayor Angela Toppin, who could not attend the meeting due to illness and instead read her budget address over the phone to the chamber, described the budget as a fiscally responsible one that reinforced council’s long term financial plan and provided the foundation for ongoing financial sustainability.
She said the budget had been particularly challenging this year due to significant rises in land valuations – the first in five years – and the soaring costs of materials, wages, fuel and electricity.
“Council made use of a range of mechanisms available to it to minimise the variations, however given that it is legally obliged to use the valuations as the basis to set the rates, it is not possible to completely mitigate rate movements,” she said.
“Due to the wide variation in the new property valuations, individual changes in general rates will vary considerably, with some ratepayers seeing an increase greater than 2.5 per cent and others seeing a rate decrease.”
Mayor Toppin said the organisation was also faced with significant cost increases, with certain commodities rising in price of up to 50 per cent.
“Council is very cognisant of the fact that the ratepayers cannot manage these further increases and has therefore, been left with no other option than to review services and projects to maintain a balanced budget,” she said.
“Council’s financial situation has been even further impacted by notification received from the State that council’s share of the annual Federal Assistance Grant is to be reduced.
This grant plays a major role in financing council’s operations and a cut of this magnitude – almost equivalent to a 10 per cent cut in rate income – will have significant and ongoing impact on council’s available funding.”
But the Mayor was upbeat as she listed some of the expenditure in this year’s $36.7 million capital works program, particularly $4.6 million for the upgrade of parks and garden this year.
Projects include the rehabilitation and upgrades to the Bicentennial Lakes between Rankin and Keeble streets, Centenary and Anzac Parks in Kuranda, the Anzac Memorial Park in Mareeba, the Dimbulah Hall Park, and to progress planning for a new park on the eastern side of Mareeba.
In addition, $3.2 million will be spent maintaining parks and open spaces. Just over $9 million will be spent on the road network, including sealing a further section of Ootann Road which has been made possible by a $2.6 million grant from the Federal Government.
A further $1.6 million has been allocated to bridges, drainage, parking and footpaths.
As part of $52 million program over 10 years to upgrade its ageing water infrastructure, council allocated $9.1 million this year, with major projects such as $3.1 million for the Clear Water Booster Pump Station and $3.6 million for the Water Pipe Renewal Program.
The Mayor acknowledged both the State and Federal Governments for grant funding, as did other councillors around the table, saying without grants they would not be able to deliver the number of projects in the capital works program.
Deputy Mayor Kevin Davies, who chaired the meeting in the Mayor’s absence, said the budget was “definitely one of the most difficult ones” to build due to the valuations.
“It’s been very trying but it’s very encouraging that we can continue improving our underground infrastructure, the stuff that people do not see, which is just vital,” he said.
Cr Lenore Wyatt recognised that people in the community were “feeling the pinch” with the rising costs of “everything”.
“I’m proud to say we were able to keep to our long-term financial plan and only had to raise the rates by 2.5 per cent, sometimes a bit less due to valuations, and that’s all our ratepayers can afford.”
Cr Mario Mlikota echoed the comments.
“Council has been very conscious of the increased cost of living over the last year – whether it be the increase in the price of groceries, petrol, electricity, insurance premiums or the recent bank interest hikes – all have had an impact on our residents,” he said.
“Council has taken into account not only these factors but has been acutely aware of the need to continue the delivery of services, maintenance of our current assets and plan for the future.
“Keeping these things in mind, I believe this council, and its hard-working staff, has delivered a responsible budget – one which is focussed on living within our means and not further exacerbating the financial challenges facing our residents.”
Cr Locky Bensted was particularly pleased with the capital spend on parks and gardens, saying this would continue to make the shire more attractive as a place to live for young families.
“We all live in this community and so we, and the staff, are very conscious of the decisions we make – we all have to live with the outcomes as well.”