Council cover up over $7m deficit

PLANNING documents unearthed by the Chronicle have revealed that the Fraser Coast Regional Council had been preparing to spend millions of dollars from infrastructure charges on pedestrian parks, bikeways and new parks.

This information flies in the face of what Mayor Mick Kruger said in a press statement issued on Monday.

In a defence of the council’s current $7.7 million infrastructure budget “black hole”, Mr Kruger attempted to dismiss the deficit as having an impact on the financial state of the council.

In a careful construction of words, the mayor said: “Infrastructure charges are not used to fund parks or facilities in other areas, maintenance or improvement of existing facilities.”

What he neglected to say was that the charges can be used to fund parks and facilities in the catchment area of the invoiced development. This catchment is set by council, can be of a reasonable size and is set for each type of infrastructure.

The documents obtained by the Chronicle clearly show that cycleways, pedestrian paths and public parks had been targeted for trunk infrastructure expenditure.

Former Hervey Bay City Council town planner Doug Mackay confirmed that any shortfall in expected infrastructure contributions translated to capital works which could not be undertaken.

“Infrastructure charges developers pay are not necessarily used for projects in, outside, or even near their developments.”

Chairman of the local UDIA branch Daniel Poacher said he was “at a loss to understand some comments by councillors in regards to infrastructure charges and the development industry in the region”.

“Whether the Fraser Coast Regional Council accepts it or not the development and construction industry plays a significant role in the economy and employment on the Fraser Coast,” he said.

“I am not sure what some of the councillors are being told but they appear to be out of touch with the community.

"Blaming the Chronicle for ‘taking sides’ would appear to be a panicked response by some of the councillors when it would appear that the community has spoken out against the problems they are experiencing whilst dealing with the council on development matters.

“These issues do not invent themselves and I am sure that the numerous persons and businesses whom have been interviewed by the Chronicle would feel offended by these comments.”

In levelling the blame for the budget blues at the foot of the “global financial crisis”, Mr Kruger said it was also the same for other regional councils.

Unfortunately the other councils didn’t back him up.

South Burnett mayor David Carter said his council had struck a balance in infrastructure charges because there had been a slight downturn and it was crucial to bring in money to keep the region “forging ahead”.

“We are only down about three per cent to date on our infrastructure budget. The trick is not overcharging developers and not dramatically undercharging them because we’re using their money for different projects right across the region.”

Mayor of Logan City, Pam Parker, who has a million residents in her area and overlooks one of the fastest growing areas in Queensland, said the downturn had caused problems in getting developments up and going.

“We have acted on this, however, and now offer a 25 per cent discount incentive for developers submitting well constructed applications, while we have also streamlined our approval processes to make it easier for all concerned,” Ms Parker said.

“We know how important new development is in providing work opportunities and we do everything we can to make it happen. You can tell your mayor that I would be pleased to discuss what we have done here in Logan City with him if he’d like to chat.”



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