Hold on rate rises as ‘everyone’s hurting’
Noosa’s $125 million “COVID budget” offers a freeze to more than 80 per cent of its pandemic-hit residents including more than 4000 battlers living on the Jobkeeper payments.
And first-time civic leader Mayor Clare Stewart, whose team also includes three other new faces elected at the height of the coronavirus crisis, has vowed to bring this deficit budget back into the black as soon as possible.
“We have a plan to get back to a balanced operating budget within two years and I’m sure we’re up to the challenge,” the mayor said.
Council is forecasting an operating deficit of $1.8 million for the 2020-21 financial year.
“We will freeze an increase in the rates notice for almost all of our ratepayers,” Cr Stewart said.
“More than 80 per cent of our ratepayers (on the minimum general rate) will not have any increase in their total rates bill.
“To achieve this we have reduced three levies that appear on the residential rates notice,” Cr Stewart said.
The mayor said the usual CPI increases for general rates and waste services have been offset by reducing the environmental levy from $70 to $56, the sustainable transport levy will decrease from $30 to $22.50 and the heritage levy will drop from $10 to $5.
“Obviously over time we will look to bring back those levies to their current levels, but short-term reductions in those levies will ensure that most resident ratepayers will see no overall increases in their rates notice this year,” Cr Stewart said.
“The impact of COVID-19 has been extraordinary and forced us to reshape our budget thinking to have even a greater focus on how to support our community.
“We acknowledge right across the shire that people are doing it tough,” she said.
All rates concession discounts remain in place and Cr Stewart said the council is going to double time allowed to pay the rates from 30 days to 60.
“We also know our community needs a range of support options to deal with our operating environment brought about by the COVID pandemic,” he said.
“As usual if anyone is finding difficulty in paying their rates they are welcome to contact council and we can put in special arrangements to assist.
“This budget has been called our COVID budget and for good reason, it has changed the landscape,” she said.
Cr Stewart said Noosa’s had one of if not the largest percentages of people on Jobkeeper in the state and “the times are almost likely to get tougher for many people”.
“When Jobkeeper and Jobseeker (boosted unemployment benefits) finish we will potentially find our community hurting even further,” she said.
“That is why we as a council have $2.5 million in surplus cash held in our disaster management reserve available to call on should it be deemed necessary.”
“The economic impact of COVID is devastating and for many businesses it will be long-term.
Cr Stewart said some have adapted and “are showing signs of recovery, others are facing enormous challenges”.
“Our business roundtable led by our economic development team has proved successful and been a major contributor to a nine-point business support package,” she said.
“Initiatives from the business round table include waiving fees, rents and adapting a flexible approach to dining and trading permits, providing business from us.”
Mayor Stewart said the council will continue to invest in infrastructure.
“Our capital budget of $27 million includes some major projects already underway, such as the Orealla (Cres) bridge replacement at Sunrise Beach and Hilton Tce Tewantin intersection upgrade and these will be finished in the coming months.”
“We initially made cuts to the capital program to save ratepayers money, but we were very pleased when both the Commonwealth and State Governments announced funding for councils to undertake local projects,” she said.
“The Noosa hinterland is well catered for in this budget ... there are 12 different projects in Pomona ranging from improvements to community halls and facilities to more footpaths.”
The mayor said council received about $4.6 million to help deliver essential community projects that “deliver tangible outcomes for the community”.
She said there will be $4.3 million for roadworks across the shire including bitumen resurfacing, the annual gravel road resheeting program
“There’s a renewed commitment to invest in footpaths and bikeways across the shire. The cell at the Noosaville landfill site will be expanded at a cost of $2.1 million and a second weigh bridge will be constructed at the landfill to improve traffic flow,” Cr Stewart said.
Other budget initiatives:
– 50 per cent rates deferment for eligible pensioners with financial hardship.
– $3.8 million for tourism promotion and local economic plan implementation.
- More than $115,000 has been allocated for hazard reduction burns and fire trail management with funding also allocated for improving fire management plans in high risk locations.
– Fees and charges relaxed where eligible for COVID-19 impacted businesses.
– Fees and rent relief for eligible businesses.
– Local suppliers to access Local Buy panel arrangements.
– $5.4 million for three bridge replacements across the shire.
- $700,000 to review options for a new mobile library solution.
– $650,000 for more bikeways and footpaths.
– $1 million to upgrade community halls and facilities.
– $250,000 to fund the construction of crisis accommodation for women and children.