October 28, 2015
Lobbying in Canberra, a change to Australian accounting standards and a reduction in employee benefits has combined to deliver an unexpected million dollar windfall to the South Burnett Regional Council.
At Wednesday’s Council meeting, Finance Portfolio chair Cr Keith Campbell said that instead of a projected $59,000 Budget surplus this year, the SBRC was now looking forward to a $1.275 million surplus.
$843,000 had come from not needing to refund money to the Federal Government for flood restoration works the Council had already carried out and paid for.
Another $458,000 had come from a recent change to accounting standards which alter the amount the Council needs to set aside for depreciation.
And a further $369,000 had come from a review of employee benefits as a result of a recent Enterprise Bargaining deal with staff.
Against this, the Council had lost $59,000 though a reduction in this year’s FAG grant; there had been a $172,000 drop in rate revenue due to rural property amalgamations; and a $100,000 spend on the South Burnett Community Hospital for grounds maintenance, security, administration support, and engaging Ernst & Young to undertake a review of the hospital’s operation.
Other adjustments in the latest quarterly Budget review accounted for the remaining $64,000.
Mayor Wayne Kratzmann said the turnaround was “an astonishing result”.
“Ever since amalgamation this council has gone above and beyond itself to keep costs down but continue to invest in our region at the same time,” he said.
“Right now, if you’re not proud of Nanango’s new streetscape, or the work that’s being done in Blackbutt to fix a 50-year old drainage problem, or Kingaroy’s new Waste Water Treatment Plant, or Murgon’s new swimming pool, or Wondai’s Village Green or Proston’s new footpaths, then I think there’s something wrong with you.
“To cap this off, we’ve delivered minimal CPI rate rises in the last two years.
“And we’ve done all of this from a position of being an unviable council when the SBRC was formed in 2008.”
The Mayor congratulated fellow Councillors and senior staff on the turnaround, saying it reflected the tight fiscal discipline the Council had stuck to.
He said he’d recently been looking at the figures of other Councils and thought the South Burnett was in better financial shape than many others of similar size.
Cr Barry Green agreed.
“One fundamental law of economics that Governments often forget is that you have to accumulate wealth before you can distribute it,” Cr Green said.
“I hope this lesson isn’t forgotten by the next Council, because I’d hate to see all this good work go down the drain.”
The extra money will be used for capital expenditure.
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After the meeting, Mayor Wayne Kratzmann said the biggest part of the windfall – not needing to repay $843,000 to the Federal Government – had come about from lobbying Federal Members Warren Truss, Bruce Scott and Ken O’Dowd.
“After we’d done all the flood restoration work in 2011 and again in 2013, the Federal Government sent in auditors to check everything,” the Mayor said.
“Auditing the 2011 flood works wasn’t too bad. But by the time the 2013 floods rolled around the Federal Government were short of cash, so the auditing was tougher because they were trying to avoid paying their full 75 per cent contribution to NDRRA.
“This led to some pretty ridiculous and unfair situations.
“For example, we might have had a site where we had to replace, say, a box culvert.
“At the time it was originally built, there was no rule it had to be signposted. But when we replaced it we had to put in signposts because it was a new construction and that’s the rule that applies today.
“In that situation, the auditors would look at a photo and say “there weren’t any signposts there before the floods so we’re not paying for them” and refused to accept Council would be breaking the law if we didn’t.”
The end result was that the Council was asked to refund $843,000 for “unapproved” flood restoration works, and had already set aside the money in this year’s Budget to do so.
“We weren’t prepared to just cop that, though” the Mayor said.
“So at this year’s Australian Local Government Conference in Canberra Keith Campbell, our Infrastructure General Manager Russell Hood and I all got on to Member for Wide Bay Warren Truss, Member for Flynn Ken O’Dowd and Member for Maranoa Bruce Scott to lobby about it.
“They agreed what the Federal Government was trying to do was unfair, and that’s wound up saving our ratepayers a lot of money they were rightly entitled to receive.
“I very much appreciate the help our Federal members gave us.”