Cr Neil Meiklejohn will consider “the important issues” in a challenging 2010/11 budget.
Cr Neil Meiklejohn will consider “the important issues” in a challenging 2010/11 budget.

Ratepayers warned of tough budget

WE have been warned for weeks now that it's not going to be pretty, but tomorrow is D-Day for Southern Downs residents as the 2010/11 local government budget is agreed.

It's been no secret that the budget will be tough, and the mayor himself has described the decision-making process as “hellish”.

Early tomorrow morning, councillors will gather in the Warwick chambers for a private meeting to sign and seal ratepayers' fate for the coming year.

The budget details will be released later in the day and will appear in Thursday's Daily News.

With State Government tightening the purse strings and the amalgamated council trying to shoehorn a differential rating system onto Warwick's flat rate set-up amid hotly contested valuation spikes, it looks set to be a tough year ahead.

In basic terms, residents should prepare themselves for rate hikes and increased charges, and they should not be holding their breath for service or infrastructure splurges.

Speaking to Southern Downs councillors in the lead- up to Thursday's news release, they say this is undoubtedly the toughest number-crunching they have been charged with to date.

Councillor Vic Pennisi resigned himself to the fact, “there's no silver bullet.”

“There are a number of issues we were facing,” he told the Daily News.

“One was trying to melt two different rating systems into one, and with the government pulling $146 million of funding away from local governments, it's a big challenge.

“I suspect it will be a challenge for a number of years. Whoever invented amalgamation for smaller communities will one day have to answer for that.

“We will make it work, but it won't be easy.”

This budget was something of a baptism of fire for Cr Jo McNally, but she staunchly defended suggestions the council's method of working out how much they wanted to spend, before raising the necessary rates, was a backwards way of operating.

“Well, in business you work out what your break-even point is, then your product has to be priced accordingly, and I think it's a similar situation here,” she said.

Cr Denise Ingram said there would be winners and losers in the forthcoming budget, but admitted “it's the hardest thing I've ever done on council”.

“It will be good for some people, but mostly rates, fees and charges will go up,” she said.

“Everything has gone up in varying degrees, but we are trying to do a fair thing across the region.”

She hinted that the northern part of the region, namely Warwick, may be faced with difficult rate increases, as well as the industrial area of Stanthorpe.

Cr Ingram, who is also chair of the Community Services Committee, said essential services had not been cut and council had worked hard to keep ratepayers happy.

“We've had to cut back on some things, but overall hopefully we will remain able to provide the same services as before,” she said.

“We've looked very carefully at where we can make cuts without ratepayers losing out. We've tried very hard across the board to bring forward a fair budget.”

Cr Neil Meiklejohn said the process had been “challenging” but that councillors and staff had worked co-operatively to “achieve the best outcomes for our community”.

“As we come to the conclusion of the budget process, we will turn our minds to the important issues such as the new planning scheme, new community planning requirements and the new local laws required as a result of the new local government legislation,” he said.

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