REVEALED: How Gympie council spent $53 million in 6 years
QUESTIONS about past Gympie Regional Council's cash splash will continue to swirl for some time, with figures revealing more than $50 million in unconstrained reserves was spent in six years.
Figures provided by the council to The Gympie Times show reserves sank from $88.2 million in 2014 to an estimated $26.5 million in 2020.
This included a drop in unconstrained cash - money not from grants, subsidies, or developer charges - from $69.6 million (of which $66.2 was earmarked for "future projects") to an estimated $16.3 million, bringing the total spending spree to almost $53 million.
More than two-thirds of the reserves were spent in a three-year period from 2016-19; almost $30 million went on the new aquatic centre and the resurrection of the Mary Valley Rattler.
The ongoing operating deficits may have contributed, too.
The amount stowed away in the council's coffers ultimately was at the heart of a firestorm of ideological debate during the past council term.
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Some corners of the community, including ex-councillor Ian Petersen and new Mayor Glen Hartwig, heavily criticised what they believed was excessive spending beyond what the council could afford.
Others, including ex-Division 4 councillor Daryl Dodt and ex-mayor Mick Curran, argued the council was doing a disservice to ratepayers by hoarding that much in the bank.
Mr Curran pointed to Queensland Treasury best practice recommendations in defence of the spending spree.
These include having no more in the bank than enough to cover six months of the council's operations, and no lower than three months' worth (about $25 million).
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However the council is now on the verge of sinking below even this lowest benchmark; of the $26.5 million in the bank, more than $10 million is earmarked for specific projects and cannot be used to fund anything else.
Acting chief financial officer David Lewis said at the June ordinary council meeting the budget adopted by the council in 2019 forecast insufficient cash to maintain the council's operations.
"If we wanted to maintain our work force, keep our capital works delivery going and still run those deficits we would run out of cash," Mr Lewis said last week.
The council has signed off on borrowing up to $10 million from QTC in the form of an overdraft as a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency solution.