Rates hike of 9.8% tipped

RATEPAYERS are being warned this year's rise in general rates could be 9.8%, as council goes into the final stages of its budget discussions today.

While Mayor Ron Bellingham insists the public was made aware 2012 would be another tough year in terms of the council budget, this will come as little relief to Southern Downs residents facing bill rate rises across the board.

The budget is set to be released in early July with rates notices hitting letterboxes in August.

Though the budget has to be finalised and council still has the ability to make some cuts, Cr Bellingham moved to warn the public of the potential rise.

Last year there was significant discontent, verging on civil disobedience, especially in the south, when the new region-wide rating system was introduced.

While Cr Bellingham said this was less to do with the percentage increase and more to do with the system, he hoped there wouldn't be a repeat of the reaction this year.

“There will be significant impact once again, but people were forewarned of the rise and will be more aware. There will be a significant number of people who will get reductions and like last year those that got reductions will be very silent.”

As the Warwick business rating category is moved in line with Stanthorpe's, the Mayor conceded there would be “some concern in the Warwick community” and said “legitimate questions will be asked”.

Budgets across the state are being released with rate rise figures such as 3% in Mackay, 3.7% in Rockhampton and 4.8% in Ipswich, which is likely to raise eyebrows at a local level.

“Council is continuing to look at efficiencies and to reduce costs in every department to keep this rate rise, which was flagged last year, to under 10%,” Cr Bellingham said.

“However, we must have a budget that is financially viable within our 10-year financial forecast whilst still continuing to provide appropriate services.

“Council is facing significant reductions in traditional State Government funding.”

In dollar terms this will amount to between $2 and $3 million less in government funding coming into council's coffers each year, in which case replacement revenue has to be generated in some other way, according the Mayor.

“The bulk of the reduction will occur within water and sewerage projects, as the Small Communities Assistance Program (SCAP funding) which offered a 40% subsidy, has been removed,” he said.

“There has also been a significant increase in council responsibilities from State Government.

“On top of that, we now know that our day labour flood relief costs will not be paid by the Federal Government above the first $1,000,000, so the flood recovery work has a significant impact on the budget.

“Combined, these have made a substantial rise in rates inevitable,” Cr Bellingham said.

Councillors will meet today for their second round of budget deliberations, with the Mayor urging all councillors to carefully consider spending.

They will also consider changes to the differential ratings categories as recommended by the independent Southern Downs Ratings Consultation Group.

The council is expected to reach agreement and adopt the budget in early July. Until the budget is adopted the final rating figure is not confirmed.



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