David Keenan, Southern Downs Regional Council CEO
David Keenan, Southern Downs Regional Council CEO John Gass

Southern Downs Regional Council states $6.3M surplus

SOUTHERN Downs ratepayers may see some relief in years to come as the regional council works to reduce its debt.

At the end of the 2015-16 financial year, Southern Downs Regional Council has reported a $6.3million operating surplus, $6.2million more than what was forecast.

Council CEO David Keenan said the result was a welcome step to restoring financial stability to the council, but there was still a long way to go.

"This result still needs to go through end-of-year adjustments and external audit process - expected to be delivered by mid-to-late October - but we are confident we will end up with a significant surplus," Mr Keenan said.

"This is an outcome of a budget adopted prior to the council elections - in the 2012-13 financial year we had to seek extended payment arrangements with our creditors as we were concerned about not being able to pay our staff.

"Since then we have been on a Queensland Government watch list regarding our financial sustainability and we need to move toward having some of that cash in the bank because right now, council has no reserves and that's why we had run into trouble with paying our creditors in the past.

"At this stage, this operating surplus is just laying a foundation for us to get back on the right track and we're working with the State Government and Queensland Treasury Corporation to figure out the best time to use any funds from the sale of land to retire debt."

Mr Keenan said despite having the first surplus budget in several years, the council needed to maintain strong austerity measures.

"This does not mean we suddenly have cash to spend or that we will be able to borrow money again any time soon but it's essential we are managing the budget properly," he said.

"We've achieved this result through implementing austerity measures such as carrying all our staff entitlements in our operating budget, reducing our labour force (by not replacing staff) and economising across the board.

"We need to continue to have a responsible budget and demonstrate over a number of years that we're becoming financially sustainable, and it will be a minimum of three to five years for us to move off that watch list.

"We must continue to produce surplus budgets - we've been quite conservative in our financials and we're trying to make sure every member of the organisation is responsible for the budget."

With a long road ahead for the council, Mr Keenan said councillors would continue to review the council service provision in consultation with ratepayers.

He added it may be some time before rates were lowered for the region.

"After the external auditors have confirmed the result, it will be essential for councillors to go out, show where we've ended this year, how that's occurred and what people think we can do for next year," Mr Keenan said.

"We're still coming back from a difficult period and once we've built a solid foundation we may be able to review the rates, but it's not like you get a windfall and immediately drop rates.

"We realise, however, the capacity to raise funds through rates is limited and we need to look at other ways to draw income.

"The council has been quite successful in securing State and Federal Government grants and I'm sure councillors will continue to advocate for this type of funding wherever they can for the prosperity of the region.

"Council will continue to review our efficiencies in the way we work and what events, services and infrastructure projects we should be involved in.

"We're also working on establishing full cost recovery on water, sewer and waste water services and a user-paid system for other services further down the track, such as the aerodrome and other sport and recreation facilities, where the ratepayers using the facilities pay for them."

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