October 24, 2018
Members of the South Burnett Ratepayers Association and other Durong residents quizzed Councillors and senior staff on Monday evening in one of the fieriest of the South Burnett Regional Council’s recent round of nine “listening tours”.
The Ratepayers Association was formed after a protest meeting at Durong in July this year called by residents angered at sudden steep rises in their rural rates.
Twenty-one people re-gathered at Durong Hall on Monday night to hear from Mayor Keith Campbell, Councillors and senior Council staff in the eighth of the nine “listening tours” organised across the region.
While councillors – many of whom were at the July meeting – again explained rates policies and why some ratepayers had ended up with rises of more than 17 per cent, accusations of “spending $2 million for the glorification of the palace”, “wasting money”, “discrimination” and allegations the South Burnett was “the dearest Council in Queensland” were thrown back at them from the audience.
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“It’s difficult to sit here and have you try and understand without sitting down with a decent sort of a spreadsheet and showing you that you have not been disadvantaged,” Mayor Campbell said.
“You have had your rates assessed on the unimproved capital value as has every other category within Council.
“Not everybody has properties with valuations of a million, or a million and a half, or two million dollars – or in some cases, even more than that – and that’s the metric on which basis rates are assessed.
“Of course, somebody who has got a property value of a million or a million and a half or higher, is going to have a larger adjustment when it comes to the rating than does somebody with a valuation of $70,000 or $100,000.”
Mayor Campbell said South Burnett rates were in the middle of other Councils in Queensland, with some higher and some lower.
He said Council had made a “business decision” to correct a problem that had existed for more years than he could remember. ie. bad roads.
“I am interested to hear what your remedy is to fix the roads without additional money,” Mayor Campbell said.
A member of the audience replied:
“All of a sudden Council has got the message that our roads are rubbish … when you first stood for Mayor you came out to the Chahpingah Hall and you told me personally, ‘I’ve got the message … roads are an issue’. Ros Heit, you said to me, ‘I’ve got the message … roads are an issue’. Nothing happened in that term. We got no work done on our roads.
“We kept on paying these exorbitant rates. We’ve got a huge amount of credit in Council because we’ve been paying rates for years and years and we have got garbage. All the money that we have been paying has been going to the towns.
“Now all of a sudden you reckon you’ve got the message and you reckon we want our roads fixed. So what do you do? Aha! They don’t kick very hard these guys in the bush, we can put their rates up. And that’s what happened.
“My rates have gone up about 27 per cent. That is absolutely ridiculous.
“I have a friend in town … his rates have gone down. His services in town have been improving and improving over the last 15 years. Ours have been getting worse and worse, and our rates have been going up and up and up.
“He wasn’t all that bothered about his $200 (road levy). He’s got a good job; $200 didn’t mean that much to him. But I tell you what, an extra $5000 or $6000 off my bottom line is significant. And it hurts.
“I came to Council and I met the CEO, and Keith and the rates manager and I put all this to you. And I thought you were listening. I said to you that we would like to get some discussion on this and for you to come forward with a proposal to make our rates more equitable and less discriminatory.
“You didn’t listen then, Keith. You guys have not been listening to the people out here for years and years.
“It’s no wonder we’re angry. What’s the point in having a listening meeting if you just come out here and as soon as somebody says something you throw a whole heap of figures out there and say ‘you’re too stupid, you wouldn’t understand’. We understand it, mate. We see it in our rates notices.
“We’ve been seeing it for years. It’s about time we got some credits back from the town people so that we can just get to town … they’re not our roads, they’re everybody’s roads … they all need to pay.”
Cr Terry Fleischfresser said Council had worked with consultants and made the “best possible decision we could have made at that time given all of the facts and all of the information we had in front of us”.
He said council had spent “hours and weeks” working with the facts and spreadsheets before making the decision.
“I guarantee you would come up with a very similar outcome to what we presented. Like it or not … come in as a group and we will show you every piece that we have been through to arrive at this position,” Cr Fleischfresser said.
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Lorna Wieland, a founding member of the Ratepayers Association, said Council had not been open or transparent in its press releases ahead of the Budget, which had upset people.
“Not everything you read in the press is what the councillor said – and media releases,” Cr Fleischfresser replied.
“I’ll tell you right from the word go, there are people at this table who have been accused of saying things that had nothing to do with it.
“Journalists have picked the bits out of a report and put a personal spin on it.
“So there is improprieties in the actual way the media has responded and recorded some of their stuff.
“But as I said, we have nothing to hide. We can show every piece of data that we have.”
Mayor Campbell expressed regret that communication with ratepayers “wasn’t as perhaps as good as it should be”.
“We have made a collective commitment at the top table here to improve the communication methodology within Council,” he said.
CEO Mark Pitt said as Council began working on the next Budget, information would be released “every step of the way” so “whatever happens, it won’t come as a surprise”.
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The meeting turned back several times to the town / rural divide and $2 million which Council had set aside for future revitalisation within the Kingaroy CBD.
Mayor Campbell said there were groups of people in every location within the region who “want, want, want”.
“On every situation, we carefully analyse the situation.
“The reality is that we continue to get feedback constantly through the Chamber of Commerce, for example, about the condition and appearance of Kingaroy.
“It’s tired. It is not inviting. It needs a facelift … there are 17,500 ratepayers, you have to understand that’s a pretty big family to try to keep everybody happy.”
Cr Fleischfresser said the revitalisation would only go ahead if there was an enormous amount of money coming in from a Federal or a State grant.
“Council was never going to go down that track although we had to have the plans ready because governments will only look at projects that are planned and ready to go,” he said.
“What I said very clearly to the townspeople … was that they must play their part if we were ever to go down the revitalisation process.
“Because they are responsible for their facades in front of their shops … they will be paying that. Council won’t be paying for that.
“We will be paying for the stuff under the ground and the services that go with that but as far as town beautification goes, it is clearly up to the people of town.
“We’ve had constant source of whingeing from the Chamber of Commerce and we’ve told them straight, ‘Sorry we are not spending any money at this point of time’.
“Throughout the public consultation period, we did say we would not embark upon this process until we could see consecutive years of funding (and the) Federal Government or State Government is going to participate with us.”
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Turning to roads, the Council panel was quizzed about the ongoing issues with Shellytop Road and McLean Road at Durong: “We pay our rates, what are you going to do about it?”
Roads portfolio holder Cr Gavin Jones said he believed Council was spending too much on “fluffy stuff” and not enough on core business.
“Two years ago when I joined the Council there was people in positions, in high-ranking positions, that didn’t want to do what we wanted to do,” Cr Jones said.
“That’s why this bloke (Aaron Meehan) is sitting beside me. He’s the new General Manager.
“I had 14 months of sheer hell trying to work with the previous General Manager.
“If I get into trouble for saying this, I don’t care because it’s the truth.
“The General Manager and I could not strike up a relationship and nothing was being done.
“That Manager of Infrastructure is now no longer with us. We’ve got a new bloke.”
Cr Jones said his first 16 months at Council was spent “fighting”.
He said he had to organise a meeting with the Mayor and the ex-CEO (Gary Wall) with the ex-General Manager “to show what I was dealing with”.
“And after that meeting, I got up and I spoke to the CEO and said ‘There you go, that’s what I’m dealing with’.
“And he said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it’. I said ‘That’s why nothing’s going on’.
“There’s a whole lot more to that story. It took another four months to process …
“I’ve been listening to you all the time. And whether you like it or not, I’m on your side. I’m trying to fix it.”
Cr Jones said that “what was happening in the past was blokes were being told … to go out and do some shitty job on a road. Patch it up. Shut them up and get out and get to the next job.
“Within three weeks and 5ml of rain and we were back to where we were.”
Cr Jones said $430,000 was going to be spent on Shellytop Road this financial year.
However, the problem with “shit pieces of road” extended across the whole South Burnett, not just Division 6.
“This is the process and I’ve been fighting like hell to get here,” Cr Jones said.
“We’re going to do three levels of service. Each road in this whole region deserves some sort of service.
“Now five cars a week, that will get a controlled grade which will just be a grader with a roller on the back. Bang, fix it all up, fix the drainage … it’s not going to be perfect but it’s going to be a helluva lot better …
“We have 1200km, so hopefully nearly two times a year you will have a dry grade on those low traffic controlled roads.
“The next level is a full maintenance grade with water trucks and all that sort of stuff. All the vegetation, all the drainage …
“The next one is the gravel resheeting program which used to run with a budget at $1.5 million but we’ve now boosted it up to $4.5 million, at no expense to the ratepayers because the money internally has just been shifted around because we listened to you guys telling us that the gravel roads are shit …
“We hope to get 100km a year on full gravel maintenance, gravel re-sheeting.
“There’s 1500km of dirt road; 80 per cent of that 1500km has no gravel on it.
“Whether you like it or not, the maintenance schedules that were done in the past … that’s our problem. It wasn’t being fixed.”
Cr Jones said he had “fought like hell” to get to the point where the program had now started, with work being carried out on T.H. Burns Road and Coverty Road.
He was asked from the floor if he was saying the previous Council staffer was incompetent.
Cr Jones replied: “I’m not saying that at all”.