RATES DEBATE: Candidates reveal how to tackle big issue
IT IS one of the biggest issues every time a new council budget is handed down: how much will rates rise?
As the Gladstone Regional Council election campaign heats up The Observer has asked every candidate what should be done to minimise rates increases.
Most candidates acknowledged the challenge of maintaining enough rates revenue to deliver essential services to the region.
Some said there was a need to reduce unnecessary spending, and had a willingness to take a look at what savings measures can be implemented.
Here are the mayoral and council candidates' reponses, in ballot order.
Reducing cost to ratepayers is always the No.1 issue at budget time. This needs to be balanced with the delivery of services and infrastructure the community expects and deserves. The challenge for the Gladstone Region is having a small population base with a more than 10,000 sq km area, which is why I am constantly banging on the doors of State and Federal governments. Every dollar returned to our community from higher levels allows us to continue to provide the services and infrastructure a growing community needs. The adoption of the budget is decided by full council.
Simple answer leave all rates the same as 2019 for the next four years so that residents can have a breather and budget accordingly.
There are many areas to look at to improve the return on the ratepayers' dollar, interest rate of 7.5 per cent; airport and Curtis island sewage debts; airport losing $4.5 million a year; tender documents which do not encourage second guessing and invite inflated quotations; GECC yearly loss; proper restructure of council management. In short the
entire council spending.
Top priority is paying down the council debt to reduce interest currently owed on the debt. Scrutinise the annual budget for possible savings and efficiencies, without reducing the services the community enjoy. Stimulate growth in our region, which in turn contributes more revenue to the annual budget.
Value needs to be assessed prior to every action they take. Council needs a business mindset. When many large palm fronds - from a nearby council garden - lay on a nearby road and footpath, I let GRC know, assuming they'd pick them up. Instead, three weeks later, ratepayers funded a Team Leader to go and count them, and then paid another employee to email me about it, advising scheduled maintenance was monthly, and that when counted, the items did not exceed their service standard. Seeking value in every action will reduce financial waste, and rates.
Appropriate planning, eliminate wasteful spending, avail more grants from the upper tiers of government, reduce the threshold of decision-making from $500,000 to $200,000 to ensure that council is delegated with decision-making capacity to scrutinise and review contracts or spending that is over $200,000.
Over the last four years the current council has worked hard to reduce debt. Last year council only increased the rates by CPI on general rates. I will continue to work hard to keep rate rises minimal.
Ratepayers need rate relief. It is very hard for a nominated candidate to have the absolute answer on how to minimise rate increases, but if elected my first mission during the first weeks will be spending as much time as required to review and understand the previous budget forecasts, plus examine the ongoing regular updates presented at Council meetings which analyse outgoings vs budgets. Once I have an understanding of the bottomline, I will be in a position to sensibly voice what action I believe ratepayers deserve.
The council is a business with a large debt and needs to continue to operate like a business reducing the debt. All operating costs should be closely looked at and all income spent wisely.
Several candidates promised to reduce rates in 2016. None succeeded. I question anyone who claims rates can be reduced without dumping essential services. The reality is that costs to operate increase each year, and there's an increasing devolution of responsibilities to local government from the state, causing further pressure on rates. The answer is very involved, but with 100 words here, the answer is, in part, about increasing efficiencies, reforming services and reducing demand on services. With the right mix of councillors, we will be a step closer to, at a minimum, lower-than-inflation rates increases.
Keep reducing debt, keep being careful with what projects council chooses to support, and keep identifying opportunities for what the organisation can do better. There is no easy solution for reducing the costs of a multi-million dollar organisation, unfortunately.
Four years ago, council made some tough choices to ensure that residents will have the infrastructure, services and assets they need now, and for the future.
To force downward pressure on rates, I am focussed on getting a bigger share of the millions of dollars in funding from State and Federal Governments (increase FAGs) for our region. These are complicated negotiations, but I am confident that with experience, energy and a common sense approach will deliver results for our residents.
I feel the rates debate will always be there as we all love our community assets which cost a huge amount of money to maintain, but having a fresh look at the way in which business is conducted from capital works programs, through to the actual finished product, along with many other things, can contribute to minor and major savings which in turn could be passed on with rate savings. Ratepayers need to see value for money.
We must continue the good work of paying down debt. Council needs to buy assets when the price is low and sell when the price is high. Council needs to continue to rid itself of assets which are albatrosses around ratepayers' necks and set up a futures fund with the interest earned paying for community projects and infrastructure. Council must turn from lambs to lions when state and federal governments trample over ratepayers in the mad rush to get a project approved so more royalties can flow down to the coffers of southeast Queensland.
This year's budgetary process is under way. Past years indicate this work is being done assuming increasing rates above CPI is acceptable.
Councillors should resolve this budgetary work be achieved with one overriding objective, that there will be no rate (rates, not other charges) increase above CPI. Use of expensive consultants should be reduced. Councillors need to be prepared and able to make decisions themselves. Any new organisational structure as has been set up within GRC will have multiple opportunities for improvement and efficiencies. Identify these.
This is a very difficult situation for council and residents, weighing up the financial requirements of council and the continuing employment of workers against the lack of new commercial input and residents' unhappiness of continuing rising costs. Council's focus on paying debt down, a leftover of multinational companies setting up a gas industry to export gas only overseas, making billions of dollars and rising the domestic gas price by 300 per cent, does not take into account the record low interest rates and the ability of council to invest in more infrastructure for the region.
I will be focused on increasing efficiency within the council while still providing the services and facilities that every resident needs and enjoys. Accountability and transparency of expenditure is a priority, I want to ensure that you as a ratepayer sees value in the council. As your community representative, I will focus on cost efficiency in the maintenance of important social and economic infrastructure and the delivery of necessary services to ensure Gladstone is an attractive region to live, work and invest. As a council we need to find ways of improving the rate of return on our ratepayers' investment.
In this term we have reduced $50 million of debt. We have also restructured council with the aim of gaining efficiencies for our ratepayers. We have employed an in-house legal officer, reducing legal fees, and a strategic grants officer to put in place project timelines and identify future grant opportunities to ensure we're efficiently funding the appropriate projects for our community's needs. We've installed artificial turf to reduce maintenance costs and more. There is always more to do and I will always commit to listening to our community and identifying where improvements can be made.
Reduce operational costs and gain efficiencies in service provision by continuing to reshape and reduce budget costs in council's capital works program. This can be achieved through better asset management, planning and project design so that 100 per cent completion is achievable on an annual basis. Continue to reduce debt, gaining relief from council's interest payments. Initiate genuine level of service consultations and conversations with our community to cut budgets further.
Rates are a necessary evil, if you reduce rates this usually means a reduction in services and the services reduced are ones that once again might affect a small, but important part of the region. We are all ratepayers and as such a rate rise will affect us too. Having had small business experience, I would like to run a slide rule over the expenditure of council and see if there is any waste that can be cut out that would put downward pressure on rate rises. The current council said there was an increase to match CPI of 2.5 per cent and that may be so, but I know my wages haven't risen that much. Have yours?
Wasteful spending is certainly an area that needs to be looked at. Fees for small and large business with the red tape you have to go through can be crippling. This is also reflected in rents which is a big part of why businesses close down in this area.
Lorraine 'Lori' May
Gain ISO certification to ensure council is operating in line with business best practices to improve efficiency and reduce costs. Focusing on where the rates revenue needed to service our community can be reduced, one of the big three Rs of local government is rubbish, and one of the rising costs in rate calculations. Pursue the Zero Waste policy, the UN states that each year an estimated one-third of all food produced ends up rotting in the bins of consumers and retailers. I would love to explore opportunities in research and project development in food waste in Australia.
I promise if I am elected, I will:
• Continue working to ensure our council's capital works program is delivered each year
• Continue working on a healthy balance between spending and a level of service that you and your family deserve
• Fight at every turn for community involvement and engagement to reflect your aspirations in my actions
• Support projects that are well planned and costed to reduce the risk of overspending and negative impacts on the business.
Rates revenue really needs to be managed much more efficiently on maintenance and day to day running costs. Overheads are always a huge bleed in any large business, particularly in corporate business. Cost positive ventures, programs and facilities need to be focused on as to in turn offset rates increases, or at worst case, cost neutral.
Rates in our particular region could have the ability to be reduced significantly if our region can get some control back from the state and federal guys to let GRC build and grow in its own right on its own land.