What's going on?

THERE must be something “fundamentally wrong” for Southern Downs Regional Council to consider delivering an almost double-digit rate increase for two years running, Chamber of Commerce president David Littleproud said yesterday.

The final average percentage increase will not be announced until the council hands down its budget in the next week or so, but Mayor Ron Bellingham issued a media notice on Wednesday warning it could reach 9.8%, a figure Mr Littleproud described as “mind-blowing”.

Councillors and staff were in budget meetings all day yesterday and Cr Bellingham said he was encouraging councillors to carefully consider spending.

While the chamber took a seat on a Rating Consultation Group the council set up after last year’s budget backlash, Mr Littleproud said there was no real discussion on the increase figure, just the rating categories.

This year Warwick business would be hit particularly hard as council tried to bring the commercial/ industrial category into line with Stanthorpe, he said.

This was likely to mean businesses in the south would see a reduction, while those in the north faced an increase.

“We are hoping council will be pragmatic about this and not make a huge jump,” Mr Littleproud said.

Though there would be significant concerns over the budget, he said, it remained to be seen whether the people of Warwick would go as far as their counterparts in the south last year, who started a petition to sack councillors and the chief executive.

“It (the potential increase) is a surprise, especially after last year’s increase,” Mr Littleproud said.

“We have some serious concerns about what is going on and whether this council has control over the fiscal management of finances.”

While the capital works budget was being pushed back due to flood repairs, Mr Littleproud also asked why there was such an increase.

“Something is not right,” he said.

“There’s not enough transparency in local government budgets and there is far too much smoke and mirrors.”

He said neighbouring Goondiwindi’s 5.8% average increase would lead to some serious questions being put to council.

“How can Goondiwindi keep its rate increase within a manageable level?” he asked.

“Even Brisbane City is saying it will be something close to CPI.

“There has to be something fundamentally wrong if we can’t do that.”

Stanthorpe Chamber of Commerce president Norman Crisp said he was reluctant to comment before the actual budget was released.

“If it is going to be 9.8%, it’s higher than what Southern Downs ratepayers would be expecting,” he said.

Rates notices should hit letterboxes in August.



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