Mayor’s Message 7.2

16 July 2019

The question of “What will my rate bill be for the next year?” is a topic on the mind of many ratepayers at this time of the year..

There are many, of course, that accept the fact that if rates do not increase, then the Council and region is going backwards. From my observations, there is never a unified solution to reducing the need for rating income. In reality, the only way to reduce the general rate is to reduce services provided by Council. Although, with the requirements of the Department of Local Government and the need for a more complete and comprehensive Asset Register, this Council, as with many others, have found that their Asset Registers are not as up-to-date as they should be to comply with legislative requirements. As a result, a further hit that the 2019 /2020 Budget was challenged with was a full revaluation of Road Assets. This has added approximately $43M to the asset base values. The issue of concern is that depreciation has increased by around $3M annually. The systems and programs that Council now has at its finger-tip is better than in past years. There are assets that have never been listed on the asset register nor have they been included in the Insurance cover for example. The impact is that the 2019/20 budget is not capable of covering these additional costs without a substantial rate hike. That was unacceptable. As a result, the 2019/20 budget bottom line shows a substantial deficit. To add to the woes, the same exercise as done for the Roads Assets is to be undertaken for Buildings, Water and Wastewater during the next year. When the conversation swings to removing services, there are none of the communities within the South Burnett who are prepared to drop services they currently enjoy be it Libraries, Parks, Gardens, Swimming Pools and Halls. There are individual people who would be prepared for this type of change because they do not use the Library, Swimming Pool and Hall. An individual voice is a lonely voice unless the majority of the community can be convinced to drop services. The point to be made is that the net result for the 2019/20 Budget is that all operational costs are covered, with the exception of Depreciation. The impact of unfunded depreciation is that there will be a reduced amount of money available to be reinvested back into the suite of assets owned by Council. This is a matter to be given further consideration during the ensuring financial year. The forward 10 year forecast demonstrates that the following years are projected to produce a 2.5% rate increase. The bottom line whole of budget forecast (including Water, Waster Water and Waste Collection) is that Council predicts a swing towards an operational surplus in 2021/22. General Operations will achieve an independent surplus in 2026/27.

Mayor’s Message 7

5 July 2019

In my last Mayor’s Message, I spoke about the possible creation of additional rating categories.

Due to representations from a section of the rural rate base, I propose to encourage my fellow Councillors to take a close look at whether an even higher order-smoothing tool may be able to be introduced. This study would look at the purpose for which every parcel of land in each category is being used.

The outcome may be to introduce a greater number of categories. The feeling by some rural landholders whose rates were impacted by the roll in of the road levy and then again by the recent Valuer General’s change to unimproved capital values, consider that the average rural ratepayer is paying  more than their fair share of rates and have been doing so for many years. Their justification for this claim is that they have received very poor service particularly in the road department.

A simple example of new categories for rural land, for example, may be if a farm is also engaging in an intensive feedlot or piggery. Or indeed, an orchard or even a windfarm. The usage of roads and services under these circumstances could be greater than if the farm is being used for traditional farming purposes. Or for Urban residential land which houses strata title units or apartments that have multiple people living on the same allotment.

This argument may or may not be accepted by rank and file ratepayers, however, it has been brought to our attention for consideration. The catch is that if some ratepayers pay less, others will have to pay more. The task of looking at this possibility, as other Councils have done, requires more than a quick-fix solution. Ideas and solutions must be researched thoroughly together with ratepayer consultation. Whether anything changes remains to be determined. The determination will need to pass the test of being fair, open, honest and transparent.

Mayor’s Message 6.2

18 June 2019

In the 2018/2019 Budget, a number of ratepayers with sizeable Unimproved Capital Values incurred hefty rate increases due to the Road Levy being treated as an operational cost instead of a Levy.

This transaction was open, transparent and not difficult to explain. However, a number of ratepayers were unimpressed with increases of up to 20% in some cases. When the Road Levy was first introduced in 2013, a large section of the rate base with low property values incurred large percentage increases also. In fact, there were in excess of 3,300 ratepayers who incurred increases of 30% to 40%. Some were even higher than 40%. Again, this was not greeted favourably by property owners with low unimproved capital values. There are other scenarios that can be thrown in to make the debate sound worse than it really is. The reality is, some ratepayers in both situations paid a larger percentage increase than the average general rate increase. In both instances, the initial introduction of the Road Levy and the decision to regard the Road Levy as an operational cost, there were groups of people unhappy. I will defend the choice of Councillors at the time to make these decisions, because the resolves were made as part of a process to deliver an outcome – to FIX THE ROADS.

In the past 12 months, the additional money and changed operational activity has progressed road improvements into very positive territory. There are numerous messages of customer satisfaction and compliments regularly coming to the office. In both situations of Council’s decision, 2013 and 2018, there was no discrimination. Each rate category shares a certain percentage of the cost to run the business of Council. These decisions are calculated based on valuations. Rates are not calculated on the basis of how much money or how little money you earn or your capacity to pay. Rates are calculated based on unimproved capital values and how the Valuer General’s Department values property. Council has nothing to do with the Valuer General Department’s calculations.

I anticipate there will be anxiety among some ratepayers again when the result of the 2019/2020 budget is released. I would encourage ratepayers to acquire as much knowledge as possible to understand the quandary that Councillors are confronted with when these challenges impede the decisions that need to be made.

The final point is that Council represents the interests of the entire rate base of 17,500 ratepayers by being consistent and transparent. Further work is intended to look at the possible creation of additional rating categories to assist with smoothing tools.

Mayor’s Message 6

7 June 2019

I want to express the deepest of sympathy to the families and friends who have lost loved ones following the recent tragedies in our community

Their grief is very raw and our hearts go out to them. Coming to grips with the loss of loved ones is very real pain. For our community, we are also hurting in absorbing the news of so many lives lost in such a short time. This is a different type of pain. We need to acknowledge the impact that these tragedies have on those who are not directly involved, but are there to rescue and save lives. The memories of these incidents are not permanently removed from their minds.  The physical and mental health of these people also needs to be protected. We are proud though to acknowledge the professional men and women in Emergency Services, Police, Paramedics, Firies, SES, our Council staff and any others who have been involved as part of the first responders. On behalf of our community I want to express our genuine thank-you.

Often, among the first comments after a road crash is to challenge the condition of the road.  In recent crashes, were the roads responsible in any way?  Most of these accidents have happened on State controlled roads and not Council owned roads. All the roads named are in a sound trafficable state. Essentially, it is not roads in themselves that kill. As road users, we need to take responsibility and be alert to the Fatal Five road rules. Yes, it is true that some accidents are unavoidable and deaths do occur. However, most accidents happen due to ignoring the Fatal Five road rules or other external factors.  Police Snr. Sgt Dave Tierney, Officer in Charge at the Kingaroy Police Station recently said that during his 34 years as a police officer, it has amazed him how readily we as a society have come to accept the death of hundreds each year on our roads both locally and nationally. He said “I can tell you, in 34 years of attending crashes, most have been totally avoidable”.

This Council takes the issue of road safety very seriously. The point to encourage is to observe the Fatal Five. Ignoring road rules, road signage or other external factors leave us all taking a risk every time we sit behind the wheel of a vehicle.  South Burnett Regional Council will continue its progress of road works to ensure the comfort of road users. We can all play a part in preservation of life and avoid tragic accidents and crashes.

Mayor’s Message 5.2

21 May 2019

I want to continue marketing the strengths of the South Burnett to drive investment opportunities in our region.

We have had considerable activity in development opportunities in the South Burnett. With the ongoing construction of Australia’s largest wind farm south of Kumbia as well as numerous construction projects of varying sizes across the region and the possible construction of another wind farm in the not too distant future, the South Burnett is literally building its investment credentials.

Value of business approvals for the current financial year has already surpassed the total from 2017-18, with three months of statistics still to be included in the final figures. Already reaching $43,473,000 in value, this figure is greater than any year, as far back as 2011-12. Council also reported in March, that as at the end of December 2018, the region’s unemployment rate dropped to a five year low of 8.2%.

With positive economic indicators and positive economic activity, the forward outlook for investment is continually being supported. South Burnett Regional Council will be advertising Council owned industrial land in Cornish Street at Kingaroy for tender. This tender will seek to realise development of the industrial land to generate industry expansion and new jobs. At the same time, we are working with the Durong community to develop a fuel cell at Durong. Initially Council are making improvements to the hard stand area adjacent to the cattle yards and dip facility to enable further development of the underutilised land.

Council’s economic development team are also working with artisan and commercial food producers and manufacturers across the region. Business South Burnett has supported the establishment of a ‘Paddock to Plate’ network, developing new initiatives relevant to food production. Access to local produce is being spearheaded by passionate advocates and chefs throughout the region.

I am determined to ensure that the South Burnett continuously improves its investment potential by ensuring that any element needed for success is met with positive support and direction from the South Burnett Council.

Mayor’s Message 5

3 May 2019

It is very rewarding for my Councillors and myself to look back over the past three years of this four year Council term to assess the decisions made and changes implemented.

The old cliché that if you keep on doing the same thing, you’ll keep getting the same result is so true. Very little falls into place in textbook style without a will to make change and search for the facts and information on which basis to develop a plan specifically designed for forward movement.

Things can be a lot different if you want them to be and to do this requires a will and preparedness to change. We know this is achievable, we’ve done it with our road network. Other sections of our business are being looked at in the same way. Recently we’ve been involved in planning sessions to set the future of Economic Development. This is to ensure that as a region we not only say we are investment ready, but that we can state this fact confidently and with conviction.

What do we want the South Burnett to look like in 2030 and beyond? Whilst much of what is needed for new development in the region is here, we can and must do a complete evaluation and define the gaps that may act as limitations. We’ve already identified great need for water and that agriculture has been and will be the core of our strength going forward. But our visions will surpass a simplistic approach to growth.

There needs to be the realisation that our existence is not limited to the geographic borders of the South Burnett and that we have the capacity to develop our region as an area of Queensland/Australia capable of creating a more diverse economy than it is currently delivering. We will assemble a profile of the information needed to attract investment. We will identify the gaps and move to rectify them.

We will promote our region with strength and purpose. We will align our internal processes to deliver a customer centric focus that aids in not only the development of new business but supports existing business and industry. The shape and function of the South Burnett is on a journey to move our visions to a higher level of business performance. Our doors are open for business now but we need a wider set of doors to identify and correct the gaps in our diversified economy and focus of growth. 

Mayor’s Message 4.2

23 April 2019

The Federal Election is now in full swing. Federal Budgets are one measure of how well the Government is looking after our regions. 

Although there were modest announcements across the entirety for Australian Local Governments, the question is how will this translate to the South Burnett?

The Federal Budget included an increase in next year’s base funding for the Roads to Recovery program from $400M per annum to $500M per annum from 2019-20. Council received $1,454,458 this financial year from Roads to Recovery. In addition, Roads Safety Federal Blackspots and Bridges Renewal programs achieve additional injections of funds. This additional infrastructure funding is essential and although well short of what is needed, it is always welcomed.

Additionally, there is an allocation of $6M in funding for the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy to assist councils by funding engineering assessments for Local Government roads. Local Government is responsible for 75% of our road network, more than 650,000 kms in length. We just cannot maintain this large asset with only 3.6% of the nation’s tax revenue.

The big disappointment with the budget is its failure to address this fundamental mismatch of revenue and responsibility.

The Federal Coalition Government did not respond to the Australian Local Government of Australia’s call to restore FAGs (Federal Assistance Grants) to 1% of national tax revenue given that it has now fallen to just 0.55%. Regrettably, neither has the Labor Opposition given support for this increased funding. The restoration of this funding would make a huge difference to the South Burnett. Nevertheless, we intend to continue to support our National and State peak bodies to continue our discussions with the Government and the Opposition regarding restoring a fairer share of the taxation revenue for all local communities in Australia.

It is a matter that we continue to lobby both sides of politics. I would encourage everybody to speak to their local candidates about this matter. It is critically important to help carry the huge financial load that Local Government is expected to deliver. The alternative is that pressure will continue on rate increases.

Mayor’s Message 4

5 April 2019

New Valuations for the South Burnett have been advised by the Valuer General’s Department and will come into effect 30 June 2019

The total unimproved value of all valuations is $1,687,340,897.  Particulars of the new valuations of all lands within the South Burnett area have now been forwarded to each landowner by the Department. 

The raw data is that 4,573 valuations increased, 10,574 decreased and 2,463 valuations remained the same.  The valuation roll will be available for inspection by any person without payment of a fee during normal office hours at the Department of Natural Resources Mines and Energy, J. Bjelke-Petersen Research Facility until 4 June 2019.

The valuation display listings can also be accessed on the Department’s website during the same period.  Land owners who do not agree with their valuation and who can provide sufficient information to demonstrate that their valuation is incorrect, can lodge an objection with the Valuer General by
7 May 2019. 

These new valuations present challenges for South Burnett Regional Council in that there are some 40 different rating categories covering 17,610 rateable properties.  The challenge occurs where there are both increases and decreases in the same rating category. 

Council has available ‘smoothing tools’ that have been used in previous years to assist in minimising the impact. Valuations are averaged over a three year financial year period to lessen the impact for property owners with large valuation increases. 

Additionally, a 30% cap has also been in use so that in the case of large increases no one’s rates will increase by more than 30%.  The methodology to be used for the next budget year 2019/2020 is still being determined.  Council has indicated that the overall rate increase is hoped to be in the order of CPI.  However, it may not roll out equitably due to the valuation fluctuations within particular rating categories.  

My comments in this column are designed to alert ratepayers of this fact.  

Mayor’s Message 3.2

19 March 2019

There’s much unhappiness in the tent of many Councils in Queensland about the plans to force major changes to the way Queenslanders elect their local councils.

One of the most significant proposals is that compulsory preferential voting would apply to all Councils in Queensland. This change would make voting significantly more complex and that makes it easier to make mistakes. One of the other proposals is the notion of introducing proportional representation in elections for undivided councils (South Burnett Regional Council (SBRC) is a divided Council). This would benefit larger political parties and drown out local voices. The other point of discord is that the Government are also proposing to use Queenslanders rate payments to pay candidates even if they’re not elected. That means $1.57 per vote (for SBRC it equates to $70,402) money that’s not being spent on infrastructure or services. These changes are just some of the raft of changes proposed by the State Government in a discussion paper which will be debated by the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) at a special General Meeting being held in Brisbane on Tuesday 2 April 2019. The proposed reforms included by the Belcarra Report and discussions with stakeholders includes:

  • Compulsory preferential voting;
  • Compulsory candidate training;
  • Proportional representation in undivided councils;
  • Tighter regulation of discretionary funds;
  • Campaign spending caps; and
  • Clarification of COI/MPI provisions.

Integrity is a significant issue to ensure current and future Councillors are fully informed about their obligations as candidates and Councillors. Councillors are required to uphold the highest levels of honesty and impartiality when making decisions in the public interest. The intent of the Palaszczuk Government is to clarify and strengthen transparency requirement before, during and after an election to enable voters to better know who they are voting for and reduce corruption risks. It’s also about the community understanding why councils make the decisions they do in the public interest. There’s a raft of proposed changes greater than those listed above.  All these matters will be put to the vote at the 2nd April meeting for advice to the State Government. LGAQ is proposing that members oppose all proposed changes with the exception of campaign spending caps and supporting the introduction of legislation to prevent the potential distorting influence of electoral expenditure by third parties with aligned interests.

Mayor’s Message 3

1 March 2019

There’s a positive mood around the Council Chambers as a result of Council’s direction to adopt a clear vision and implement new strategies to improve the road network

February’s operational report on Council’s works program unveiled a new era of operational focus and for the first time, real results for our community.  Whilst we had achieved some good outcomes in the past, the time was well and truly passed where as a Council, if we continued to base decisions on past methods we cannot expect different outcomes. 

Council commenced a journey some time ago to look at ‘WHY’ its road network was not improving and ‘HOW’ things could be done differently.  That ‘WHY’ and the ‘HOW’ resulted in a series of key changes to our organisation and community.  It started with the leadership in the Council Chambers itself to call in a third party external assessment to review and understand exactly what and where the problems were occurring.  This resulted in Councillors being fully informed of the entire road network condition – both unsealed and bitumen roads. Council had to start to make some hard calls on its core business and establish a new strategy for its road assets. A strategy that actually could be delivered focuses on the basic 4 R’s:  re-sheeting, reseals, rehabilitation and road maintenance.

You need backbone to lead and take committed action. All that matters are the results.  The Roads and Portfolio Report to Council in February provided a clear picture of RESULTS and what we believed would drive the journey of solving our road problem.  We have listened to our ratepayers.  We have seriously thought about the way forward.  Now we are in the EXECUTION phase.  If you don’t live out the vision of what is needed, then there would be a continuation of making excuses.  There was a challenge when this Council term commenced in April 2016.  It’s taken the combined effort of Councillors, Senior Staff, Employees and our Ratepayers.  I believe in the process that we have adopted to deliver our vision. Never before in my time in Council has there been such a determined focus to change.

Our road network will possibly never be perfect.  No one’s ever is. There will always be potholes and rough roads, just as there are always houses that need to be painted. But what matters now is that we are executing; our network improves every day; we are grading roads; we are re-sheeting; we are resealing; we are getting RESULTS.

I invite you to view our results and follow Council’s works program via our Roads and Portfolio Link 20th February on Council’s Website.  As the next months’ advance, watch the progress to establish the results.