March 20, 2017
by Dafyd Martindale
In 2014, southburnett.com.au carried out a detailed study which compared South Burnett rates with other Queensland councils
The results of this study – the first carried out in our region – surprised many because they showed that while none of us like to pay rates, the South Burnett compared fairly well with neighbouring regions.
And outside the densely populated south-east corner where most of Queensland’s population live, our rates were also cheaper than most coastal areas where the majority of the State’s remaining population lives.
The information for our study was taken from standardised, State-wide rates and charges data collected by the Department of Local Government from Queensland councils every year.
To see how our region stacked up, we first compared the South Burnett with our five neighbours (Somerset, Toowoomba, Western Downs, North Burnett and Gympie regional councils) which have similar geography and face similar problems.
Then we compared our rates against the rates paid by Queenslanders living in 10 regions along the coast.
And finally, we compared our rates against four of Queensland’s biggest metropolitan councils – Brisbane, Ipswich, Moreton and the Sunshine Coast – to see how we stacked up against the largest councils in the State.
We carried out this identical study in each of the three succeeding years.
And when the Department of Local Government made the 2016-17 data available this week, we decided to do the study a fourth time.
Here’s what we found this year:
In last year’s study we found that when compared with our immediate neighbours, the South Burnett’s rates were neither the cheapest nor the most expensive on offer … we were about mid-range.
However, those rankings have slightly improved over the past 12 months.
While Wondai (at the lower end) retained last year’s fourth position, at the higher end Kingaroy’s average residential rates bill of $3195 pushed it back up to 5th place; Kingaroy residents are now paying $4 a year less than if they lived in Toowoomba City.
The South Burnett’s current position is largely due to the annual $200 road levy, which the Council was forced to bring in when it lost $1.4 million in annual road funding in 2012.
That funding still hasn’t been restored so the road levy remains in place.
This is a burden none of our neighbours share except Gympie, which calls its own $110 annual levy a “Roads Infrastructure Charge”.
Removal of that levy – if it ever happens – would quickly bump us up into the middle tier.
In last year’s comparison with coastal shires, we found the South Burnett had slipped from near top of the table down to the middle.
But this year we rose back up to hold third position at both the lower and upper ends – or in other words, we are cheaper than most rural coastal regions in the State.
At the lower end, the South Burnett came in third place against Mt Sheridan (Cairns Regional Council) and Gin Gin (Bundaberg Regional Council), who pipped us by up to $107 a year, or about $2 a week.
And at the upper end, Redlynch and Robina were as much as $200 a year cheaper than Kingaroy’s average residential rates, or about $4 a week.
But everywhere else on the coast cost more (in Gladstone’s case, a lot more) than the South Burnett.
Finally, it’s probably no surprise to anyone that the South Burnett’s rates are more expensive than the large metropolitan councils of south-east Queensland.
They have much bigger populations to help spread the cost, and most have much smaller road networks to maintain as well.
But the surprise this year was that at the lower end, the South Burnett’s cheapest rates beat those of Ipswich, pushing us back into fourth place.
And at the higher end, the difference between Ipswich and the South Burnett was just $500 a year, even though Ipswich has almost seven times the population and just one-seventh of the land area we do.
The introduction of the Road Levy in the 2013-14 Budget moved all our annual rate bills $200 higher, and it’s stayed that way for the past four years.
The SBRC said it had no choice.
To prevent our road network falling to pieces, it either had to bring in the Road Levy or start closing pools, libraries, halls and other amenities.
Our road network was simply too important to all of us to be allowed to fall into decay.
The Road Levy also figured in last year’s local government elections, with some candidates promising to scrap it if elected.
But to judge by that election’s results, it seems most of us accept that while no one likes the levy, we’re stuck with it until the Federal Government restores our fair share of road funding or some other revenue source can be found.
One point worth noting, though, is that in our last study we reported that in the previous three years average residential rates in Wondai had risen from $1920 to $2659, while rates in Kingaroy had climbed from $2443 to $3204.
This was equivalent to an increase of between 32 per cent and 38 per cent in just 36 months.
But this year average residential rates have marginally declined (Wondai $2657, Kingaroy $3195).
So what’s happened?
Well, it seems the tight fiscal management policies the South Burnett Regional Council has been pursuing since amalgamation are finally starting to show dividends.
That, plus four years of population growth at a little over one percent, has led to a small turnaround.
And after three years of slipping in the rates tables, it’s nice to see this year’s small bounce-backs.
We can only hope this continues into the future.
And we’ll let you know how it all pans out for 2017-18 … in about 12 months from now.
Notes On Comparisons With Neighbouring Councils::
Notes On Comparison With Other Regional Councils:
Notes On Comparison With Metropolitan Councils: