Southern Downs Regional Council Vic Pennisi mayor
Southern Downs Regional Council Vic Pennisi mayor

GOING UP: SDRC bumps up rates to prevent $700K+ deficit

RESIDENTS across the Southern Downs can expect an increase in their next rates payments, as the council scrambles to make up a possible $700,000 budget deficit.

Southern Downs councillors resolved at yesterday’s ordinary meeting to cancel the 1.9 per cent remission on rates and utilities charges implemented as a COVID-19 financial measure.

The rebate has seen a $529,325 reduction in possible council revenue since July, with SDRC’s first quarter budget review now revealing a potential operating deficit in excess of $700,000 by the end of this financial year.

The rates remission was only just more costly than SDRC’s Stage 1 COVID-19 Economic Recovery Package, a raft of overdue interest and licensing waivers totalling $498,497 since May.

SDRC’s total coronavirus funding packages, including a further $292,000 spent on direct costs, has so far totalled $1.3 million.

The rates rebate was first handed down as part of the new council’s budget in July, in which a surplus of $34,000 placed SDRC at “medium risk of immediate sustainability concerns”.

Councillor Jo McNally was the most vocal in opposition to the overall 0.95 per cent rise, urging council officers to search for other savings opportunities before hitting ratepayers.

“Our community is hurting, we are still in a severe drought – we said these measures were for six months, but people are hurting and we’re going into Christmas,” Cr McNally said.

“I just think at this time of year, and being so early in our budget cycle, I think there are possibly savings we could make before the end of the financial year to make it back to a surplus.”

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Fellow councillor Sheryl Windle suggested reducing the overall rates increase, though Mayor Vic Pennisi countered the 0.95 per cent was the lowest he’d seen in 16 years of council.

Councillors Andrew Gale and Stephen Tancred, along with Deputy Mayor Ross Bartley, spoke in favour of the rates rise as the best way to start clawing their way back to a surplus.

“I’m more than happy to support this resolution, even though I’m conflicted. At the end of the day, we’re here to make decisions in the best interests of everyone, and having a council in a good financial position is surely one of the things the community expects of us,” Cr Gale said.

Cr Pennisi praised councillors for their handling of a “tough decision”, and warned they would need to keep putting the community first under increasing financial strain.

“With the ageing infrastructure cliff that’s about to hit us, really our trajectory is quite ugly, and we’re going to have to grapple with that within the next four years,” Cr Pennisi said.

“You guys have been elected, and we’re going to need to have these discussions because there are some serious, serious implications going forward.”



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