BUDGET TIME: Here’s what you need to know
The "next generation" of Southern Downs councillors have handed down their first budget, set to impact tens of thousands of residents, with big spending on capital works and changes to the way rates and levies are charged.
Southern Downs Mayor Vic Pennisi said the harsh economic climate of the post-pandemic world was front of mind when the newly-elected councillors drafted the "clean, no-nonsense, soft budget".
"It's the first budget in a new normal that we're all struggling to understand and adapt to," Cr Pennisi said.
"We are unaware of what the future holds, in terms of the pandemic spiking again.
"But it's your money that gets saved, your money that gets spent, and your money that replaces what money is spent."
Here's everything you need to know about the Southern Downs Regional Council 2020/21 financial year budget, and how it will affect you.
Will my rates change?
No. At least, not yet. The council has delivered a 0 per cent rate rise for the first six months of the year, levying a 1.9 per cent rise through council coffers to bring the balance back to nil.
There will be an additional 7.5 per cent discount on rates paid within the discount period, which has doubled from 30 days to 60 days.
Further, residents can expect their rates notices to appear biannually rather than annually, to coincide with utility charges and reduce payment confusion.
Cr Pennisi said he hoped the decision would provide financial support to residents.
It is unclear whether residents will have to pay the 1.9 per cent rise during the second half of the financial year.
Where is most of my money going?
A whopping $42 million will be spent on an extensive capital works program, the largest such capital works budget in some years.
The decision serves a dual purpose, to both stimulate the economy and to bring council infrastructure up-to-date.
According to Councillor Stephen Tancred, the $1 billion of council infrastructure has been poorly maintained for some years, with an inadequate asset replacement ratio of just 74 per cent. This budget will take the ratio up to 101 per cent, ensuring services remain functional to the community.
What major projects can I expect to see over the next year?
The council highlighted several key projects for residents to keep an eye on.
- $320,000 spent on Maryvale town centre upgrades and Leyburn streetscaping
- $43,500 spent on the addition of a new group fitness room at WIRAC
- $250,000 spent on a new building for Rose City FM
- $650,000 spent on an effluent water treatment plant for the truck wash at the Warwick Saleyards
- $4.4 million spent on the Warwick recycled water main
- $600,000 spent on widening Innverramsay Rd
- $3.1 million spent on the construction of a new cell at the Warwick waste facility
Which community groups received grants?
The council delivered a modest increase of $125,000 to the community grants program this year, for a total spending of just over $1 million.
The following groups are set to benefit:
- Warwick Art Gallery
- Stanthorpe Art Gallery
- Tourism community grants
- Warwick Rodeo
- Jumpers and Jazz
- Leyburn Sprints
- Apple and Grape Harvest Festival
- Granite Belt Wine and Tourism
- River improvement trusts
Will there be a surplus?
Yes, but a very small one. The surplus of $34,000 places the council at a medium risk of immediate sustainability concerns. The previous budget delivered a surplus of $447,000.
Is the council in debt?
Yes, the council carries ongoing debt from the 2013/14 financial year, when it borrowed $5 million for the Allora water pipeline.
The council has been gradually paying off the debt, putting the region in better financial standing in order to remove it from the State Goverment's watch list of local government authorities that are not financially sustainable.
The budget states the council does not intend to borrow any further funds over the next 10 years, and will pay an additional $1.7 million to further reduce its debt this financial year.
Did the council listen to ratepayer submissions?
A total of 55 submissions were received from ratepayers in regards to the current budget. These recommended changes to the draft, such as additional funding for art galleries and the sealing of the gravel section of Washpool Rd. None of these submissions resulted in any change from the draft budget to the final budget, however some have been flagged for "further investigation".
How much is council spending on water?
The budget accounts for $14.1 million spent across 43 separate water and sewage projects across the Southern Downs, which accounts for 39 per cent of the total budget.
Cr Tancred pointed out the council spends around double on "dirty water" as it does on freshwater, demonstrating "council's commitment to sustainability".
Key among these projects are the replacement of sewage pumps, and the investment in the recycled water network in Warwick.
Council workers also plan to investigate the feasibility of installing smart water meters.