Council’s Budget supports the community despite challenges, says Mayor
Arresting the deficit and supporting sustainable community outcomes is the focus of Longreach Regional Council’s 2019/20 Annual Budget, which was handed down today.
The outback council has described its budget as a prudent one that supports the community through operational outcomes.
The budget will see the net deficit reduced to just over $4 million, down from $5.7 million the previous year.
Council says its independent rating review was particularly exhaustive this year and re-examined the structure of rating categories, fees and charges. It considered the variance between rating categories, and the disparity of fees and charges as applied across separate communities. Adjustments have been made with a view to making things fairer and more equitable following uniform rate increases of up to 5% in recent years.
Through this work, rates for the vast majority of households will increase by only 3.5% this year - with the median increase working out to under $3.50 a week for residential properties.
The Mayor, Cr Ed Warren, said Council is focused on making sustainable decisions in the current political and economic climate.
“Like many regional and remote councils, we find ourselves in a challenging position with rates and utility charges making up only about 30% of our operating budget. We rely heavily on grant funding, which is often contestable, making it hard to plan ahead.
“Until there is broad scale financial reform of the local government sector, Council will continue to find it difficult to balance its budget.”
He said Council was increasingly being forced to focus on maintaining existing asset and service-levels, instead of taking on new capital projects.
“Council’s infrastructure requires ongoing renewal and replacement that’s hard to fund. Which in turn makes it hard to take on a lot of the capital works that we’d otherwise like to do.”
Despite the challenges, the Mayor says Council still supports the community through its budget.
“Yes, times are tough, but our budget delivers some great outcomes for our region – things like the $3.7 million we spend maintaining our public facilities such as our showgrounds, parks and gardens, and delivering community services such as our libraries and youth development, not to mention all our sponsorship and community grants.
“We spend $1.1 million supporting our regional tourism industry, and a further $1.6 million managing pests and weeds on rural lands, stock routes and reserves. That includes the latest additions to our Longreach Wild Dog Exclusion Fence Scheme which have just been introduced.
“Council pumps $38 million into the region’s economy through our operational budget alone. That money goes around our community 1.8 times to add $71 million to the region’s economic output.”
He said Council was focused on building the regional economy.
“We have a vision for the future of our region and we’re committed to our strategic goals – in renewable energy, water sustainability, tourism development, and liveability – that will ultimately diversify and enrich our economic base. That’s the kind of thinking that’s going to lead to better outcomes, not only for Council’s financial sustainability, but for everyone in the community.
“We do have to address the challenges we face in local government but it’s big-picture thinking, like our Longreach Wild Dog Exclusion Fence Scheme, which is going to make the greatest impact on our region’s economy.”
In addition to sustaining operational works, the budget contains $14.4 million in capital expenditure. Some of the noteworthy capital projects include:
- Cramsie Muttaburra Road pave and seal
- Thomson River weir design and precinct masterplan
- Longreach Pool Filter Replacement – Stage 1
- Beersheba Place – Stage 2
- Longreach and Isisford Water Treatment Plant upgrades
- Ilfracombe Machinery Mile footpath
- Isisford-Yaraka River Road improvements
- Ilfracombe playground shade structure
- Isisford Weir design
- Yaraka North Dam improvements
Council has committed to a range of efficiency reviews to be undertaken over the coming year. It will consider options to streamline operations in areas such as fleet management, energy consumption, and asset utilisation. There will also be a focus on becoming more adept at securing grants; with this budget containing over $15 million in operational grants and $5.1 million in capital grants.
Mayor Warren said it is important for Council to focus on budget sustainability for the benefit of the community.
“The work of Council touches the lives of everyone in our community. The future of our region calls on us to make these responsible, well informed, and sustainable decisions on their behalf.”
Council will make the full 2019/2020 Annual Budget available to download on the website later next week.