October 16, 2013
About 300 people packed into the Blackbutt Community Hall on Tuesday evening to tell South Burnett Mayor Wayne Kratzmann something he probably already knew … the $200 compulsory road levy on annual rates is not popular.
The meeting, organised by Blackbutt cattleman Peter Scott and local residents Reg Rowan and Kevin Wilson, followed a petition (24kb PDF) delivered to council last month signed by 860 local residents which slammed the road levy and rates rises in the Blackbutt area.
This letter demanded Council meet with local ratepayers to discuss rates, the road levy, council costs, financial management and the level of State and Federal Government assistance the Council receives.
After a meeting between the Mayor and the organisers of the petition, Tuesday night’s public meeting was planned. Mr Scott agreed to chair it.
In attendance were all six South Burnett councillors, Mayor Kratzmann and Member for Nanango Deb Frecklington.
Mr Scott described the meeting as an example of “people power in action”.
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Mr Scott opened the meeting by saying how aghast he had felt when he had received his last rates notice.
He said Blackbutt residents had been treated unfairly by successive councils; they were the “forgotten southern cousins” and had been treated as an adjunct to the South Burnett.
He said “nothing much” had happened in Blackbutt since 1962 when water and sewerage were first connected to the town.
“One hundred and thirty years after my great-grandfather first came to this town there are streets that are still not kerbed and channelled; the main street is still not kerbed and channelled … nothing has been done to promote this town as a destination, as a liveability village that would support a sustainable population, (a) population able to grow and expand without being taxed into submission,” he said.
Paraphrasing Kerry Packer’s famous quote on tax minimisation, Mr Scott said: “You’re not spending it well enough for us to want to give you more”.
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But Mayor Kratzmann denied that Council has been asleep at the wheel and said his figures would prove that.
“Our operating expenditure for 2013-14 is only $265,000 more than it was at amalgamation, six years ago. If you take CPI into consideration, we’ve had huge savings. Those savings are around $11 million, and that’s a fact,” he said.
“Our savings have come from more efficient operations, a reduction in staff by 41 since amalgamation; 90 per cent of these (jobs lost) are ‘inside’ staff.
“We’ve reduced our staff not by sacking, but by not replacing people.”
Mayor Kratzmann also defended Council spending $1 million on consultants in the last year.
“Council engages consultants or specialist workers as it is cost-effective at times not to employ a full-time person when the work is not for a full year, examples include specialist engineering designs, legal advice, (the) workplace health and safety audit … a lot of it is engineering works, there’s $400,000 for flood damage investigations that we had to do for Aurecon and there’s also a significant amount of almost $400,000 where we had to get consultants in with regards to our major infrastructure which is water, sewerage and roads. ”
As he explained Council’s Budget expenditure, catcalls of “boring” and “tell us about the fringe benefits” came from the floor however Mayor Kratzmann pressed on with assistance from Mr Scott, who urged that the interjections cease.
“In 2008-2009 we had an operating deficit of $13.75 million … which was hugely significant. We brought down this year a surplus of $578,000,” Mayor Kratzmann said.
“I’d like you to listen to this because these are the true facts. I was asked to provide an explanation as to Council’s decision to ‘unfairly and unreasonably’ increase rates and charges.
“Rates have increased, there’s no doubt about that … but over the six years, if you go back since amalgamation there’s been some real dips, particularly in Blackbutt, where … some former special charges that were taken off, actually rates decreased for a small time.”
This was greeted by jeers and cries of “bull****” from the audience.
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Mayor Kratzmann demonstrated that Blackbutt had not been singled out for rate rises.
“Since 2008-09 in Hart Street, for instance, rates have increased by 22.85 per cent; James Street by 12.27 per cent and then places in Kingaroy by around 30 per cent; Wondai has been the worst affected … by up to 50 or 60 per cent since amalgamation. The reason for this was their rate base was extremely low by the former Wondai Shire Council.”
In fact, Mayor Kratzmann said Blackbutt had been very heavily subsidised by the rest of the South Burnett, a statement which produced more jeers and laughter.
“It’s absolutely true,” Mayor Kratzmann said. “The Blackbutt water supply revenue received was $342,000 collected from the ratepayers of Blackbutt. South Burnett Regional Council spent $842,000 on that scheme, $500,000 extra than what came in.
“Wastewater was $158,000 collected, $625,000 was spent, once again an additional $467,000; and Blackbutt waste management (refuse), $161,000 was collected and $284,000 was expended.
“These are the true figures. If Blackbutt was running their sewage treatment plant or their water as a one-off system … the current charge (on individual rate notices) for sewerage is $430; to cover it to break square we would have to charge the Blackbutt people $940.
“Those of you that have got water, you currently pay $395. Because the number of users is not great … it should be, to break square, $1390, almost another $1000.”
Mayor Kratzmann said the ratepayers of Kingaroy and Nanango had helped keep these figures down.
“There is no one in my Council, me or any of my councillors, who ever want a rate rise but at times we are faced with decisions that we have to make … that are extremely unpopular.
“But don’t tell me that Blackbutt isn’t being subsidised with their service charges. That is the truth, and all the smaller areas are.”
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In regards to general rates, Mr Scott said there had been a 300-350 per cent increase in unimproved land valuations in parts of Blackbutt which had led to substantial rate increases.
He called on Council to introduce a concessional rate for all Blackbutt land categories to take account of these rises in valuations.
Mayor Kratzmann said he would be more than happy to form an alliance with Mr Scott and talk to the Valuer-General about some of the huge increases.
“Unimproved value is the wrong way for us to levy rural land … but no one can come up with a better system,” he said.
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Turning to the road levy, Mayor Kratzmann said that under the Act, every cent raised by the levy had to be spent for the purpose it was raised, which meant every dollar raised from the road levy would be spent on roads and their associated works such as drainage.
And he said there was nothing unusual about it. Other Councils with a levy included Mackay $123, Rockhampton $457 and Gympie $120.
Mayor Kratzmann said the 25 per cent of ratepayers who were pensioners were only charged half the road levy.
When this was disputed loudly from the floor, he urged pensioners to bring their rates notices to him, so he could explain it to them.
Mayor Kratzmann said the road levy was brought in because Council had to fix the roads after the 2011 and 2013 floods.
“We were getting 80 complaints per day, every day,” he said.
“Our councillors, the seven of us with our senior staff, sat down and said: ‘What are we going to do?’
“Are we just going to keep taking the 80 complaints or do we bring the road levy in, as unpopular as it will be, and fix the roads, and then get rid of the road levy and maintain them to that standard?”
The Mayor also pointed out that the levy has only been in operation for three months and asked the audience to give Council “a fair go”.
“I’m sure that at the end of twelve months when we all look at our roads we’ll be a lot happier than we are now. And I’d be happy to come back to another meeting then to get your feelings about this.”
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Mayor Kratzmann said there was no doubt that Blackbutt had been forgotten in the past but he had made a commitment to bring the town “up to speed” with other towns.
“But we can’t do it overnight,” he said.
“That’s why we have $1 million put down over the next five years to do kerb and channeling. We had to start somewhere.”
The mayor also detailed a list of 17 road projects scheduled to be completed in the Blackbutt area before next March.
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Mr Scott queried the South Burnett Regional Council’s relationship with the Blackbutt and Benarkin Community Council, which he said did not truly represent the people of Blackbutt.
Mayor Kratzmann replied there was no relationship other than the fact that he and Cr Deb Palmer usually attended their meetings, and that Council recently gave the group a grant of $1000 for public liability insurance, part of $109,000 recently distributed to not-for-profit community groups all across the region through Community Assistance Funding.
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After answering a series of questions from the floor, the Mayor handed the microphone back to Mr Scott who asked that everyone at the meeting who was against the road levy raise their hand.
After a near unanimous vote, he then asked the audience “Do you believe your rates and services equate to each other? In other words do you believe you are paying the right amount of rates for the services you receive?”. Shouts of “No!” echoed across the floor.
Mr Scott then said he was in the process of forming a South Burnett Ratepayers Association, and asked interested residents to contact him.
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