Squeezed from above, slammed from below
NORTH Burnett's mayor has called for a greater understanding of the financial pressures faced by regional councils, saying her administration is "piggy in the middle" between a heavy-handed State Government and unforgiving ratepayers.
It comes in the wake of a Queensland Treasury Corporation decision to deny the council a loan after an unfavourable assessment by the Queensland Audit Office, which was concerned about its operational deficit.
Three other councils, Longreach, Barcoo and Barcaldine, were also denied loans.
The decision has been met with mirth by Mayor Rachel Chambers, who pointed out that 44 of Queensland's 77 local governments are running a deficit.
In response to the ruling, council has commenced a 'Workplace Sustainability Project', which aims to find $1.5 million in savings over its 2019 - 20 budget.
The Australian Workers Union has since lodged a dispute in the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission, claimed 13 full-time equivalent council jobs are on the chopping block, a claim stridently denied by council.
Now, Cr Chambers has delivered an impassioned plea for a greater understanding from both the State Government and ratepayers about the financial pressure regional councils such as hers are under.
"The government really needs to understand 'roads, rates and rubbish' is what councils did do, but in the legislation (Local Government Act 2009) councils do whatever the community needs them to do," Cr Chambers said.
"In outer regional councils, councils are responsible for mostly everything.
"If you take swimming pools for example, we still have to run our swimming pools - in a city area they're run commercially by a corporation, nothing to do with council.
"On the coast, councils run parking and get income from that. I don't think it would be a very astute council that puts parking fees in the North Burnett but we miss out on that income as well.
"In city areas development corporations develop a suburb and as part of the application they also develop parks or bikeways, council still doesn't have to invest in that in the city because developers do that.
"We've got none of that so council has to develop everything in outer regional areas.
"I think that's lost on the government sometimes, we do more than 'roads, rates and rubbish', we have to have sense of liveability."
Cr Chambers said these issues, allied with a static population and a ratepayer base of less than 7000 properties, means regional councils such as hers would always struggle to meet State Government sustainability metrics.
Cr Chambers said she has begun to change her language when dealing with the State Government.
"I started changing my language to say 'the Queenslanders and Australians living in the North Burnett'," she said.
"I felt like the onus was on us to take care of our people and it was outside our capacity.
"I have to keep reminding the government Queenslanders and Australians are living in North Burnett and you are also responsible for them and if it's outside our capabilities then it's inside yours."
Cr Chambers said her administration is "completely invested in transparency and accountability" when it comes to explaining the financial landscape to ratepayers.
"I want to tell everyone everything, but sometimes I can't because of a confidentiality issue from the State Government, sometimes you've got a gag order on what you can and can't say," she said.
"We're sitting in the middle.
"Councils are feeling a huge amount of pressure, pressure on all sides."