Mayor Clare’s first budget speech hits right notes:
HERE is a slightly edited version of Noosa Mayor Clare’s Stewart’s maiden budget speech delivered today at the council chambers. Noosa CEO Brett de Chastel rates these financial deliberations his toughest in 20 years. Mayor Clare explains why:
“It gives me great pleasure to present my first budget as Mayor of Noosa.
“What timing, our first budget as a council coincides with one of the most challenging periods we could ever have imagined.
“This once in 100-year pandemic has brought significant challenges to our council’s finances and within a few months, we as a council have had to adopt to a new financial business and social environment that none of us would have expected.
“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.
“How do we meet community expectations with lower revenue without significantly increasing rates?
“In many ways we are no different to our residents who are reviewing their budgets for their households and their businesses.
“Our philosophy for this budget which has been shared by councillors and staff has been very clear from day one – save where we can, to spend where we must.
“As a collective council guiding the community through a pandemic carries enormous responsibility and it’s important we be financially responsible, keep rates low, deliver services and continue to invest in what’s important for our residents.
“This has resulted in some difficult decisions for us, such as deferring our much-loved kerbside waste collection service, but making those hard decisions has meant that we can put more resources where they are needed to support our local residents and businesses.
“We acknowledge right across the shire that people are doing it tough.
“This council has made a conscious decision that now is not the time to increase the rate burden on our community.
“Today, we are pleased to announce that we will freeze an increase in the rates notice for almost all of our ratepayers.
“More than 80 per cent of our ratepayers 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.
“To offset our usual CPI increases for general rates and our waste services we’ve reduced our 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.
“I trust our ratepayers will welcome that news.
“We also know our community needs a range of support options to deal with our operating environment brought about by the COVID pandemic.
“Some in our community may find it difficult to pay their bills, so we are allowing extra time for people to pay their rates this year.
“Instead of the usual 30-day period we’re allowing up to 60 days for residents to pay their rates.
“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.
“Our pensioner rebates and rate concessions for community groups are also continuing in this budget.
“This budget has been called our COVID budget and for good reason, it has changed the landscape.
“Bearing in mind we as a community with over 4000 people currently on Jobkeeper (federal employment assistance payments), one of if not the largest percentages of people in the state, have acknowledged the times are most likely to get tougher for many people.
“When Jobkeeper and Jobseeker (boosted unemployment benefits) finish we will potentially find our community hurting even further.
“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.
“We’re also providing extra support for our community as a result of COVID.
“We’re providing $250,000 in community grants tailored specifically for COVID-19 recovery, we have waived council lease fees for our community groups where possible and committed almost $1 million to upgrade community halls and sporting facilities.
“Many of these halls and public facilities are in the hinterland.
“The economic impact of COVID is devastating and for many businesses it will be long-term. 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.
“Initiatives from the round table include waiving fees, rents and adapting a flexible approach to dining and trading permits, providing business from us, cutting our payments terms to seven days for all local and regional suppliers.
“This budget provides hundreds of thousands of dollars in relief for small businesses in a time when they need it most.
“At this time we need to continue to invest in infrastructure. 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.
“We received approximately $4.6 million to help deliver essential community projects that deliver tangible outcomes for the community.
“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.
“There’s $5.4 million to replace three bridges including the Wahpunga (Lane) bridge in Kin Kin and the Tablelands (Rd) bridge in Cooran.
“We’ve allocated $4.3 million for various roadworks across the shire including bitumen resurfacing, the annual gravel road resheeting program and three significant road rehabilitation projects in Noosaville.
“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.
“The Noosa hinterland is well catered for in this budget.
“There re 12 different projects in Pomona ranging from improvements to community halls and facilities to more footpaths.
“Over 3 million projects have been earmarked for Cooroy this year, which includes about $1.7 million for road resealing work.
“Following on from the $1.25 million council recently received for Bushfire Disaster Recovery funding, this budget incorporates a number of measures to address community concern about bushfire management.
“In particular over $115,000 has been allocated for hazard reduction burns and fire trail management with funding also allocated for improving our fire management plans in high risk locations across the shire.
“This investment will ensure we can be well prepared for the upcoming fire season.
“We’ve put a focus on delivering tangible outcomes for our community providing grassroots style projects that will make a difference to the lives of our residents.
“I am justifiably proud of council and the budget we have prepared given the extra ordinary circumstances we are currently facing.”
“This has been a team effort in every sense of the word.
“We have struck the right balance between spending money when we need so we can support our community without increasing rates while people are hurting financially.
“We have a plan to get back to a balanced operating balance withing two years and I’m sure we’re up to the challenge.”
“No more than ever we’re in this together.”