Central Highlands Regional Council has handed down a budget that continues its responsive strategy to prevailing economic conditions with a minimal increase of 1.9% in general rates.
Mayor Kerry Hayes said that while the last two budgets provided near zero rates movements, fundamental costs have risen.
‘The organisation has focused on making its business more efficient and functionally living within its means’, he said. ‘This budget sticks to those principles and we remain committed to providing value, but we must also practice financial prudence required to ensure that we cover the cost of doing business and the cost of borrowing.
‘Rural rates will increase this year because of the continued growth in rural valuations that demonstrates confidence in the agricultural sector and there is a recalibration of our water business with a strategic change to the access and consumption components to enable cost recovery.
‘A healthy and financially sustainable council operation cannot have parts of its service delivery in deficit and subsidised from general rates. Recent upgrades to critical water and sewer infrastructure is now well known and the new fees and charges reflect the meeting of those costs,’ the mayor explained.
‘The water access charge will increase from $416 to $550 for 2018-19, and consumption charges will increase by 1.9%.
‘Building and maintaining quality infrastructure is the major focus area of this budget as we allocate more than 50% of the operating expenditure and 70% of the capital spend on this key priority.
‘A record $91 million capital works program is the real headline. It includes $30 million in natural disaster restoration works from TC Debbie in 2017 that will see council and the private sector work together to deliver an improved transport network.
‘Sewerage charges will increase by 1.9% to return costs associated with the new Black Gully Sewerage Treatment Plant; a project that represents a long-term investment to serve the community of Emerald for at least the next 30 years.
‘Waste charges remain constant with only a CPI-based (consumer price index) increase while the full implications of the Queensland Government’s drive to reduce waste to landfill are considered.
‘The urban fire levy remains a charge of the Queensland Government and will increase in accordance with the CPI.
‘Setting the budget is always a difficult balancing act of running the council like a business while managing services and operations to match the changing economic environment and community aspirations for the region.
‘This council has been committed to finding operational efficiencies and eliminating waste to ensure the cost of providing its 60-plus core services to the community is genuine and can be continuously reviewed and reported.
‘There are clear signs that our region is experiencing more positive economic conditions and the long-term outlook is pointing to an enduring incremental growth. However, we must compliment this change with sound financial management and investment in our communities that continues to attract new business and more people to our region.’