Council toasts to year of projects and initiatives
DESPITE having tough budget restraints to comply with, Southern Downs mayor Peter Blundell is pretty impressed with how 2014 has panned out for the council and the region.
"Ultimately it would have been nice to have a few extra million dollars to spend on other projects but it is going to be restrained for the next few years," Cr Blundell said.
"One of the driving forces is the strain being felt from the state and federal governments which has resulted in us being dealt less funding and reductions in grants.
"But overall I think we dealt with the challenges fairly well, there is always room for improvement but I feel we have done a good job so far this year."
And while limited in funds and the number of projects they were able to undertake the council did complete several big projects across the Southern Downs during the year.
These include the completion of the Stanthorpe, Leyburn and Killarney flood maps and the installation of warning sirens in Killarney and Leyburn.
Allora residents are also now connected to a much cleaner and better standard of water after the council's $5 million pipeline project was successfully completed this year.
"The upgrade to the Stanthorpe Waste Facility was also a big project and the changes will be noticeable to the users of the facility," Cr Blundell said.
"It is now more user friendly, it was definitely a significant project."
One project that has been on the cards for several years is the flood repairs and roadworks as part of the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements.
"The process has been going on for a number of years and it is great that we are finally able to get the roads back to the standard they were before the floods," he said.
Also making the list is the process of appointing a new chief executive officer.
"The applications for the position closed on Tuesday and we will be progressing this process into the new year," Cr Blundell said.
"This will be a big deal over the next 12 months and could see some new changes taking place."
Cr Blundell said it would be impossible to reflect on the year that was and not mention the approval of the Emu Swamp Dam project.
"Discussions about this project have been going on for many years and while it still has a long way to go the approvals of both the state and federal governments is a major milestone," he said.
The project's importance is highlighted by the tough drought conditions the region's farmers and producers have been dealing with.
"The drought has had a huge impact on the community this year for both the rural industry and in the retail industry as well," Cr Blundell said.
"We go from flooding to drought in this part of the world so quickly and in the last number of years we have experienced both.
"Falling levels at Storm King Dam highlight just how important it is for us to get greater water security.
"It is nice to see we are getting some rain towards the end of the year but there is some way to go before we see an end to this dry spell."
The council has also had to make a number of tough decisions this year in the chambers.
One of these was the decision to hand over the management of WIRAC to the YMCA.
"This has been the focus of discussions for quite some time and it is great to see it finally come to pass," Cr Blundell said.
"YMCA do a tremendous job and I am sure that will flow onto the management of WIRAC."
One of the more recent and possibly the most controversial issues the council had to deal with this year was water fluoridation.
The council was forced to discuss and make a decision on the issue after the Save Our Shire Action Group presented a survey to the council calling for fluoridation to be stopped.
Despite a poor return rate in the council-conducted survey the council still voted to cease fluoridating the region's water, a decision Cr Blundell does not personally support.
"I don't think it was the best decision but that is just my point of view, and all part of democracy," he said.
And while not a direct council initiative Cr Blundell said the upgrade of the maternity ward at the Stanthorpe Hospital was another big achievement for Stanthorpe this year.
"It is a big deal for Stanthorpe and fantastic to see the standard of the suites, it is a wonderful facility," he said.
"It will benefit mothers in our region as well as those outside the district.
"I would like to thank the Health Minister Lawrence Springborg, the Darling Downs Health Board and the MUMMS group for the exceptional work they did to make the project happen."
Cr Blundell also paid tribute to those involved in the organisation the 2014 Jumpers and Jazz in July event.
"All the events held across the region always manage to bring people to the district which in turn provides a great boost to our economy," he said.
And while Cr Blundell said it was hard to predict what 2015 would bring he admitted he was looking forward to the Anzac Centenary celebrations.
"There are groups meeting to discuss what we are going to do across the region to commemorate this occasion," he said.
March will mark the current councillors' three years together.
"We are getting close to being three quarters of the way through our term and there have been challenges in that as well," Cr Blundell told the Daily News.
"We have seen some organisational and structure changes and I am the first to admit that it did create some challenges.
"Bedding down the changes is an ongoing process and we have to stick with it in order to see the benefits."
Top 10 projects
NDRRA floodworks completed
Improved ways of dealing with the budget process
Emu Swamp dam approval
Completion of the Allora water pipeline
Process of appointing a new CEO
Installation of warning sirens
Upgrade of the Stanthorpe Waste Facility
ALDI development coming to Stanthorpe
YMCA taking on WIRAC