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Budget is affordable given rising costs, Mayor says

Fraser Coast Regional Council Mayor Gerard O'Connell, council executives and councillors at the budget meeting in Maryborough on Wednesday morning.
Fraser Coast Regional Council Mayor Gerard O'Connell, council executives and councillors at the budget meeting in Maryborough on Wednesday morning. Hayden Johnson

UPDATE: The budget has been framed to make sure it is affordable, Fraser Coast Mayor Gerard O'Connell says.

He said council had to cope with some huge increases including rising insurance costs and fuel and electricity costs and falling State and Federal Government grants.

"Council has been hit with the same increases as every Fraser Coast household," Cr O'Connell said.

"Our fuel and vehicle registration costs will increase and our power bill will go up by almost $900,000 from $3.35 million to $4.21 million.

"That includes a 15% increase in electricity charges and an extra $240,000 as we now have to pay an access fee for each streetlight.

"Council will outlay $2.43 million for street lighting - that equates to $6.04 from every $100 of your rates.

"Insurance costs have increased by 15% or $211,000 to $1.8 million."

He said containing costs and building for the future were the themes of the council's 2014-15 budget brought down on Wednesday.

"We have listened to residents' feedback at progress association and chamber of commerce meetings and through our regular Community Chats in shopping centres and at the markets," Cr O'Connell said.

"Residents have told us what infrastructure they see as important and what they expect in service levels.

>> See the breakdown of service provision costs per rateable property here.

"We've been able to keep increases in operational costs as close as possible to CPI, which is 2.9%, and still provide the infrastructure residents want to meet the demands of a growing area.

"While everyone judges the budget against CPI, which is the register of cost increases for a basket of household items such as bread and milk, the budget should be judged against the Local Government Index which registers the increases in goods and services such as bitumen and concrete which Council buys.

"The Local Government Index is running at 3.6%.

"The amount generated from general rates to provide that infrastructure and services will rise by 3%, from $71.2 million to $77.7 million under this budget."

In a brochure released with the budget information, the Fraser Coast Regional Council says the smaller the rate base, the more residents have to pay for services and infrastructure.
In a brochure released with the budget information, the Fraser Coast Regional Council says the smaller the rate base, the more residents have to pay for services and infrastructure. Contributed

Grants

"The Federal Government has frozen its grants for the next four years and the State Government reduced its subsidies and grants.

"In real terms Federal Assistance Grants has dropped 28% or $1.74 million since amalgamation.

"That means that the amount of federal and state government funding we receive is not keeping up with inflation and the amount we receive is getting smaller each year."

The council would continue to be positive and proactive when it came to buying goods and services locally, Cr O'Connell said.

"We spend more than 80% of our budget with local suppliers which stimulates the local economy and builds confidence in the region," he said.
 
Cr O'Connell said the council had undertaken an extensive review of all of its services and programs.

>> See a percentage breakdown of how the council spends its's money here.

"In formulating this budget, we reviewed every service and project council provides to consider whether we should continue to offer that service or if we could find more efficient ways of offering the service," he said.
 
Residents would see a couple of changes to their rates notice including the introduction of a new $75 infrastructure levy, Cr O'Connell said.

"It will raise $3.7 million that will be injected into capital works projects across the region such as bridges and roads; facilities residents expect us to build," he said.

The council would continue to collect the $28 Rural Fire Brigade levy and ensure that all of the funds were allocated to the rural fire brigades.

"Ratepayers have an expectation of the services they want and we're doing our best to provide those services cost effectively."

A council brochure says the bigger and more dispersed the area, the more demand for infrastructure and services with less people to pay for them.
A council brochure says the bigger and more dispersed the area, the more demand for infrastructure and services with less people to pay for them. Contributed

Highlights include:

  • $40.89 million for maintenance and construction of new roads
  • $14.29 million for waste and recycling
  • $13.22 million for the maintenance and upgrades of parks, open space and recreational facilities
  • $4.87 million for economic development, tourism, cultural facilities and events
  • $2.15 million for coastal protection works
  • $1.4 million for airport operations
  • $4.51 million for libraries and customer service

"The budget will do a lot to encourage investment in the region which in turn will create jobs," Cr O'Connell said.

Some of the major projects include:

  • $2.6 million for Kent and Adelaide Sts to revitalise the Maryborough CBD
  • $1.2 million for bridge replacement, including the first stages of the Burrum Bridge refurbishment
  • $1.5 million for the Burrum Heads Boat ramp (over two years)
  • $2.1 million for coastal protection works
  • $1.3 million for jetties, boardwalks and piers
  • $1.2 million for River Heads Rd (to match a Federal Government grant)
  • $2.5 million for Nissen St which is the gateway to the Hervey Bay Hospital
  • $1.8 million for Main St between Doolong and Chapel Rds
  • $2.8 million for stormwater drainage constructions and maintenance

"Roads continue to be the largest component of the capital works program with $27.6 million or 59% of the capital budget allocated to the region's road network," he said.

Cr O'Connell said $29.48 from every $100 of rates went towards road and drainage which covered projects such as:

  • $1.28 million to replace bridges
  • $9.6 million for road construction
  • $1.2 million for new footpaths and bikeways
  • $1 million for kerbs and channel
  • $4.2 million for resurfacing
  • $1 million for blackspot safety improvements
  • $5.6 million for improvements to trunk roads

The region's parks and recreation facilities would also receive a $13.22 million injection with:

  • $9.2 million to maintain the region's 455 parks, open spaces and recreational facilities
  • $1.46 million for public amenities, landscaping and park upgrades
  • $1 million for new park furniture and playground equipment

The environment has not been forgotten with $2.15 million for coastal protection.

The council has release a brochure with its budget information titled Let's Compare Apples with Apples.
The council has release a brochure with its budget information titled Let's Compare Apples with Apples. Contributed

Concessions

To minimise the impact on pensioners, the council will provide $1.72 million in concessions to almost 12,000 pensioners across the region.

All pensioners (both single and married) are eligible for a $150 concession from the council.

The concession is in addition to the State Government Pension Concession, for which pensioners can also apply.

The council has also allocated $430,000 for rates concessions for community groups, churches, welfare groups and sporting groups.

A Local Heritage Register rebate has been introduced to encourage residents to maintain and restore places of historical significance.

Farmers will also be offered assistance.

"Drought declared primary producers will be offered two options to defer their rates to help them through the tough times," Cr O'Connell said.

Annual rates notice

Council will issue its rates notices annually and will offer a 10% discount on rates if they are paid within 45 days of the notice being issued. 

As an additional incentive ratepayers will be able to pay their rates in four instalments without incurring penalty interest.

Water charges will also be staggered and sent out three times a year in November, March and June.

Discounts of 7.5% on each water bill will be available to customers who pay by the due dates.

Council also has a direct debit facility which will enable residents to cut rate bills into more manageable amounts. 

With direct debit, you can choose the date your payment starts, the payment amount and how often you pay, plus you can cancel at any time. 

Payments can be made weekly, fortnightly or monthly from your nominated bank account. 

>> See the council's explanation of land valuations and rates here.

Responsible

"I believe the 2014-15 budget is responsible," Cr O'Connell said.

"It will cater for growth, maintain frontline services and allow the region to grow."

EARLIER UPDATE: Fraser Coast councillors have voted 8-3 to to adopt the 2014-15 budget at a special meeting in Maryborough on Wednesday morning.

Councillors Loft, Hansen and Rolf Light voted against the motion.

EARLIER: Councillor Chris Loft said residents couldn't afford another rate increase and proposed cuts to new infrastructure projects across the region.

He cited cutting the $2.6 million Maryborough CBD beautification as a way to save.

"I really don't think we can afford it," he told the chamber.

Cr Loft proposed $8 million in savings from the capital works budget.

The amendment was defeated 10-1.

Councillor James Hansen said the council should take back control of Fraser Coast Opportunities and save ratepayers $700,000 a year.

While Cr Hansen didn't put the suggestion to council for voting, he voiced his concerns about the region's peak tourism and economic organisation.

"I've never been a big fan of Fraser Coast Opportunities," he said.

Cr Hansen suggested cutting the council's three-year funding agreement and bringing it back under council control.

Councillors are still discussing the budget.

Topics:  budget, fraser coast regional council, maryborough, meeting




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