Our region braces for big increase

THE nine men and women we elected to represent the region will today decide on the magic number they feel is needed to run Southern Downs Regional Council for the next year.

At a meeting in the Warwick council chambers this morning they will be asked to pass the 2011-12 budget.

Mayor Ron Bellingham has already warned the public of a possible 9.8% average general rate rise and described the budget process as “traumatic”.

Hours and hours of behind-closed-door meetings were held last week with Cr Bellingham insisting he and his fellow elected officials were going through the books with a fine-toothed comb to provide the best possible outcome for the region.

Ahead of crunch time, the Daily News asked the local councillors how they felt about what they will today be asked to approve.

For Cr Cameron Gow the main challenges in putting together the budget have been the floods and the continual passing down of jobs from state to local government.

He said he didn't feel great about the budget because of the additional costs of flood damage and extra work from the state.

When asked how she felt about the budget she was about to pass, Cr Denise Ingram said there were no certainties yet but she was not feeling good about the impact on ratepayers.

“Everyone is feeling the financial pinch at present,” she said.

“I can really empathise with ratepayers, however, I am aware that we must meet council commitments and levels of service."

While Cr Ingram said there will be a large number of ratepayers “far from pleased” with the increase, Cr Vic Pennisi said he was expecting a mixed response.

Cr Pennisi said he felt it was inappropriate to reveal his position on the budget at this stage, as did Cr Ross Bartley, who said he would be “keeping his powder dry” for today's meeting.

Cr Denise Ingram said future elections and chances of re-election did not come into consideration for her when she went through the budget process.

“I would never compromise my own values or the intelligence of ratepayers in an effort to be popular,” she said.

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