THE Tablelands Regional Council’s (TRC) 2019/20 annual budget was handed down at their monthly meeting last Thursday, with critical water infrastructure and roads at the forefront of their funding commitments.
In what is Mayor Joe Paronella’s last budget, he noted that he was proud to present what he described as a product of thorough and meticulous collaboration between Councillors and staff.
“The budget continues our commitment to both maintaining and improving critical infrastructure and improving programs and services that enhance access, equity and inclusion,” he said.
“We have advocated to State and Federal Ministers to ensure our voice is heard, and that fair and equitable consideration and funding are provided to support our economic, investment, tourism, health, environment, housing, and water and energy security endeavours.
“We continue our investment in maintaining and improving our facilities and infrastructure.
“We will spend over $29.5 million on capital works, supported by $11.7 million of grants and subsidies from State and Federal Governments.”
Water quality has been an issue in the TRC Shire for quite some time, and in the adoption of the budget, Cr Paronella confirmed the development of a region-wide Water Business Strategy and Infrastructure Development Plan, and implementation of the Water Quality Improvement Plan.
“We need to ensure that further investment is cost effective and targeted to improve water quality and reliability,” he said.
“To reduce the frequency and duration of boiled water notices and improve water security across the region, we are investing in new infrastructure, implementing improved processes, and maintaining and running new systems.
“This is reflected in a 5.4% increase in water access charges and a 10 cent increase in consumption charges to 69c/kilolitre.”
The budget was lauded by the majority of councillors sitting at the round table, with Cr Katrina Mellick noting that this budget sets up for a “strong and vibrant future”.
“This budget demonstrates that this council has considered future economic, social and environmental sustainability by developing and implementing tangible strategic initiatives to position us to be best placed as a region heading into the future,” she said.
“This Council has taken the bull by the horns and taken the necessary tough HR decisions, resulting in a totally transformed executive team, who are not only skilled to face the challenges of the new world of local government, but who are also champions and examples of the culture we are trying to embed in our organisation.
“So I encourage people to stop looking the rear-view mirror and instead look at where we’re heading.
“We can’t change the past but we can certainly influence the future.
“I support the budget and believe this is a responsible one that puts in place and builds on the foundations of our previous budgets to enable us both as a council and a community to collectively build the future we want.”
The only councillor to vote against adopting the budget was Division 6 councillor Owen Byrnes, who expressed his displeasure about the TRC’s handling of financials in recent years.
“While I do believe our CEO Mr Commons (Justin Commons) is trying his best to transform TRC into a better business, I find it difficult to support the budget for multiple reasons,” he said.
“To constantly be in deficit is a greasy path to financial disaster.
“We need to be mindful that the outgoing council are leaving a legacy of multiple deficits, and maybe the ambitions and strain from basic council deliverance of service and maintenance has led us into other areas we can’t afford to be.”
The 2019/20 budget will see general rates increase by 3% for residential, farming and grazing properties, and 2% for sporting and community groups. Capping of rates on land in Categories F and G continues for a third year, where certain conditions are met, to reduce the financial impact on property owners that received significant rate rises attributed to property valuation increases in 2017.
KEY FIGURES IN TRC 2019/20 BUDGET:
• $9.6M on roads, bridges and drainage
• $8.5M on the Water Quality Improvement Plan
• $2.3M on water infrastructure improvements
• $147,000 for library books
• $165,000 on new entrance signs for our region
• $3.2M for community buildings and facilities including an all-access toilet in Ravenshoe, boat ramp lighting at Tinaburra, swimming pool shelter in Atherton, replacement cattle shed at the Malanda Showground, and other projects.