Mayor Mick Kruger
Mayor Mick Kruger

Global crisis behind black hole

“DON’T be concerned; we are not in a financial crisis.” That’s the message the Fraser Coast Regional Council pushed out yesterday in the wake of our weekend report revealing the council faces a possible $10 million budget deficit.

Mayor Mick Kruger said if there was anything untoward in the council’s finances the State Government would have raised it with the council.

In a detailed two-page response to our story the council also claimed that the $7 million it was down on its infrastructure charges budget would have no effect on its capital works program.

“Infrastructure charges collected from developers are used to provide trunk infrastructure to a development whether it is high rise development on the Esplanade, an industrial estate or a residential sub-division, “ Mayor Mick Kruger said.

“The infrastructure charges are not used to fund parks or facilities in other areas, or maintain or improve existing facilities. That work is part of the $65 million capital works program which is funded by general rates, other fees and charges and grants.”

Deputy Mayor Belinda McNeven backed up the mayor, saying: “It’s a bit chicken and eggy. Whatever the budget is is almost irrelevant. We put in the figure.”

But the council’s comeback didn’t have everyone singing from the same hymn book.

Chairman of the council’s economic development committee, Gerard O’Connell, said he believed the huge shortfall in developer contributions would cause projects to fall over.

“We are relying on developers’ contributions coming in with infrastructure charges. Well, they’re obviously not so we have to do something about it urgently or the Fraser Coast will lose out on facilities residents rightly deserve and expect.

“We are meeting with the local Urban Development Institute on Thursday, the mayor, the CEO, the acting director of development services and myself and the time has come to strike a balance between regulating and facilitating. We have to grow a sustainable economy and that includes certainly charging developers but not making the charges prohibitive to their doing their approved projects.”

The council is currently reviewing the infrastructure charges reports that have been prepared by consultants and council staff and Mr O’Connell expects to see a result by the end of March “that doesn’t push developers to take their projects and their investment dollars elsewhere”.

Ms McNeven said the council wasn’t chasing development away; in fact “we’re bending over backwards”.

“If a project is ready to go, the developer can get charges at a reduced rate,” she said.

While the council put forward a strong defence to what the shortfall would mean to the region the only real excuse offered as to why it was $7 million off the mark was the Global Financial Crisis.

The council claimed other regional councils were facing the same situation.

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