NATALIE JOHNSON BREAKS DOWN THE 2020/2021 DOUGLAS SHIRE BUDGET DISCUSSIONS
⟼ General Rates and Utilities to rise by CPI of 2.2%
⟼ Introduction of 1.2% discount on General Rates for those who pay their rates before the due date
⟼ $21 million for Capital Works
⟼ Plans to grow rate base, diversify industry, and explore revenue-raising opportunities
⟼ 2020/2021 end of year financial position forecast – $3.7 million operating deficit
Douglas Shire Council has passed the 2020/2021 budget at a special meeting held on Tuesday 30 June 2020.
The budget passed 3/2 with Cr’s Kerr, Scomazzon and McKeown voting to accept the document and Cr’s Noli and Zammataro voting against adoption.
Mayor Kerr, in his budget address, noted the past six years had followed, “a plan of financial sustainability by driving towards a budget surplus – a dubious goal.” He went on to advise this year’s budget would focus on, “increased transparency, sensible investment and a need to strengthen the Shire’s economy.”
In outlining his vision, Cr Kerr prioritised, “growing our rate base, diversifying industries and exploring revenue-raising opportunities” while delivering the “largest ever budgeted capital works program” of $21 million. Cr Kerr went on to note, what was to be a modest surplus at the end of the 2019/2020 financial year, was now expected to be a $3.7 million deficit by the end of the 20/21 financial year. Chief Financial Officer Tara Killeen confirmed this position, agreeing, had COVID “not come along, we would have come close or achieved (surplus).”
In concluding his budget address, Cr Kerr noted, “general rates and utilities have been capped at the CPI level of 2.2%” and a, “1.2% general rates discount for those that pay their rates before the due date” would be re-introduced as a COVID assistance offer.
Opening discussions, Cr Noli immediately advocated for a 0% rate rise – the equivalent of approximately $600 000, affirming, “this is a year to bring things back to basics … as a nation we are hurting.” Cr Noli informed the meeting, Douglas was reported to have experienced the second-highest impact in Queensland due to COVID. Additionally, high employment in the tourism and hospitality sectors – both forecast to take up to five years before visitation bounced back to pre-COVID numbers, was impacting residents more so than in other Shires. Cr Noli added Cairns, and Port Douglas had seen the most significant percentage increase of people accessing unemployment benefits – more than double the state average and were also estimated to have the second-worst rate of youth disengagement.
Going further in her argument, Cr Noli pointed out, “nobody seems to have any big money, people with little money are cautious, and there are many people with no money.”
Adding to her campaign for a 0% rate rise, Cr Noli observed, “Australia is in recession and the people in Douglas struggle not only for the big bills, but they struggle for every dollar.”
“Australia is in recession and the people in Douglas struggle not only for the big bills, but they struggle for every dollar.”COUNCILLOR ABIGAIL NOLI
Cr Noli concluded, “I believe we need to cut this budget back to the basics … let’s be leaders. This year we must have a 0% rate rise.”
“I believe we need to cut this budget back to the basics…let’s be leaders. This year we must have a 0% rate rise.”COUNCILLOR ABIGAIL NOLI
Cr Zammataro agreed. “Businesses and families are struggling financially, and they will be for some time,” pointing out, “a few dollars is a considerable amount of money for families that are struggling and businesses who have lost their income stream.”
Cr Zammataro believed a 0% rate rise was “achievable by Council, if as a Council we curb our spending and concentrate on what’s necessary to keep Douglas operational.”
Following on from Cr Zammataro, Cr Scomazzon, who had commented in April she felt, “freezing our rates and fees is something we can look at doing to help our community,” showed her support for the General Rates and Utilities rise, having also voted for a rise in Fees and Charges earlier this month.
Noting she understood that “people are doing it really tough at the moment”, Cr Scomazzon commented Council needed to look at it positively, as “everyone is going through the same thing.”
Cr Scomazzon went on to assert as a community, Douglas needed to “reshape exactly what’s it’s doing, “going so far as to declare, “it’s quite obvious that we rely way too much on tourism … (and) … we need to open our doors now for other types of revenue to come into this town, other businesses and other types of ventures.”
Cr Scomazzon concluded, “tourism has really shown that it’s not viable for this Shire.”
“Tourism has really shown that it’s not viable for this Shire.”COUNCILLOR LISA SCOMAZZON
Cr McKeown agreed with all three Councillors comments regarding the tough nature of the times and noted as a business owner himself he understood how residents and businesses were feeling. However, Cr McKeown advised those ratepayers of the Shire he had spoken with believed, “there should be a rate rise, needs to be a rate rise,” concluding he supported, “a minimal, sensible increase.”
Upon the conclusion of Councillor arguments and comments, Mayor Kerr agreed the Shire was doing it very hard, however, advised the new budget was driven to create other employment opportunities while ensuring Council maintained “a basic standard … (keeping) … our parks, our gardens, our roads, all those council assets up to a standard.”
The new budget comes into effect today 01 July 2020.
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