ON BUDGET: Mayor Mick Curran delivers the 2019/2020 budget, which some councillors say slugs regional areas too much.
ON BUDGET: Mayor Mick Curran delivers the 2019/2020 budget, which some councillors say slugs regional areas too much. Scott Kovacevic

Gympie budget delivers a city/country divide in rate rise

RURAL ratepayers can expect to be hit with an average 8 per cent rate rise this year as Gympie Regional Council handed down a budget some feel only splits the city/country divide wider.

In his last budget before next year's council election Mayor Mick Curran delivered an average 1.8 per cent increase across all rateable categories, pointing at this year's land valuations as the cause of the rural rate pain. It is a lower rise than the 2 per cent flagged in the draft budget.

However, Cr Bob Fredman said rural ratepayers would not be celebrating this year, with an average 8 per cent sting on their rates.

This includes some primary producers which he said would be slugged 20 per cent.

Councillor Bob Fredman.
Councillor Bob Fredman. Renee Albrecht

This extra revenue will contribute to the 6 per cent increase in total rates and charges revenue, a decision Cr Fredman called "obscene” and "price-gouging”.

Cr Curran said the rural rate rise was due to this year's State Government land valuations and defended the package as about "the whole picture” instead of buttering up voters.

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"This budget and the decisions we make is not about being popular,” he said.

Despite this 6 per cent rise, the budget still features a $5 million operational deficit, with a return to operational surplus not forecast until 2024-25.

CEO Bernard Smith said the deficit was caused by rising costs, including staff wages and public amenity cleaning standards.

CEO Bernard Smith.
CEO Bernard Smith. Renee Albrecht

However the council hopes to return the budget to surplus in four years, rather than five.

"Over the next two-to-three years we need to have a very sharp focus on our costs and efficiencies,” Mr Smith said.

The Rattler's controversial and blowout-riddled return was a bone of contention.

Cr Fredman noted this year's budget still carried "another million for the Rattler and its associated projects” and Cr Glen Hartwig said it was one part of continued "irresponsible” spending.

The Rattler.
The Rattler.

"For the first time in this term as councillor, I have seen staff with a consistent and direct message to councillors: 'You can not continue the same spending patterns without a large rate rise or you have to seriously cut costs',” Cr Hartwig said.

Cr Daryl Dodt defended the budget and the council's ongoing commitment to the heritage train.

"(There's) some thinking the Rattler is an entity that will break even as a single entity,” he said. He said it was part of a long-term plan to drive the region forward, which was what this budget was about.

The budget was passed 6-3 with Crs Fredman, Hartwig and Hilary Smerdon voting against it.

Gympie Times


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