by Dafyd Martindale
The recent announcement by the South Burnett Regional Council that it intends to make further cuts to community funding so it can find more money for road maintenance will please some people but upset a lot of others.
Roads have been an ongoing problem for Council ever since it was formed in 2008.
The South Burnett has a 3200km road network, and about half of it is unsealed.
This network requires almost half the Council’s Budget each year to maintain.
Our region’s roads were badly impacted by the 2011 and 2013 floods, and those blows set the Council’s maintenance program back so badly that now – five years later – it still hasn’t fully recovered.
In an effort to get major dirt roads trafficable as quickly as possible after the floods, a large number of minor dirt roads were allowed to deteriorate to the point where they now require major rebuilds.
On latest estimates, this is going to cost about $10 million to remedy.
But is putting the boot into community groups to save less than $120,000 over the next two years the right way to approach this problem?
The cutbacks have the potential to make life harder for not-for-profit groups which are already working hard to make ends meet.
It looks and feels like a slap in the face to the volunteers in these groups who work so hard to keep them going.
And for what?
As Cr Ros Heit points out, the money saved wouldn’t fill in more than a couple of pot holes.
It would be less painful to the community if a bit less landscaping went into the proposed Glendon Street plaza … a project which has already cost ratepayers $253,000 just in the planning process!
Is it so hard to find $120,000 in savings when our Council runs five loss-making swimming pools, five Visitor Information Centres and six libraries?
Yes, community groups may be an easy target for cuts.
But the real cuts – cuts that would make a substantial and lasting difference to the bottom line – need to be made in areas that are politically unpalatable.
Closing a few pools, reducing the number of visitor centres and libraries, and selling off a few town halls would produce ongoing savings that would rapidly get our Council’s finances – and our road networks – back in good shape.
It is the simple and obvious path out of the shamble of services the Council inherited and has been maintaining over the past decade, despite the endless sea of red ink those services generate.
Putting the axe through some of them could be done in a way that shares the pain equally among all our towns.
It would be well worth the Council’s time to study the positive effects a few sensible service cuts could have on its bottom line.
However, that would require more political courage from our Council than we’re seeing at the moment.