October 8, 2019
by Anne Miller
Kingaroy residents turned out in force – well, at least 11 of them did – on Wednesday afternoon to take part in the South Burnett Regional Council’s “listening tour” meeting.
The audience numbers at the Kingaroy Town Hall Reception Room were matched by the people seated along the top table ready to field questions: Mayor Keith Campbell, six councillors, CEO Mark Pitt and three more Council staff.
The Mayor opened the session by explaining how the current Council had lowered debt during its term – from $44,931,000 to $39,385,000 – and had increased the amount of monies held in reserve (ie. set aside for identified future costs) from $30,981,000 to $48,069,000.
He also pointed out that while councils were generally thought to be responsible only for “roads, rates and rubbish”, there were “in excess of 800 different activities and functions that are operated by Council in one way or another”.
The meeting was then opened for questions from the floor.
Not surprisingly “roads” was the first topic raised.
“Roads, rates and rubbish. You could roll that all into one: we pay rates and we have rubbish roads,” one man said.
But he was not talking about the condition of any of the South Burnett’s many gravel roads – it was the alleged resealing at 1:30am on a Sunday morning of a section of First Avenue in Kingaroy, potholes and all.
Despite assurances from General Manager of Infrastructure Aaron Meehan that Council doesn’t reseal roads at 1:30am on Sundays – and it was most likely repairs after a broken water main – the questioner was insistent.
“Ok, this is the sort of thing we are quite happy to check out,” Mayor Campbell said, thanking the questioner.
Then it was on to lawn mowing and overgrown allotments.
“Council should go around and check all these yards and make sure they get mowed,” one woman suggested.
Mayor Campbell said if people didn’t take action after they received a warning notice from Council, Council staff would do the work and the cost would be added to their rates bill.
Cr Roz Frohloff added there was an issue at present with the risk of Council equipment sparking fires.
Other questions centred on the contentious Haly Street pedestrian crossing, parking behind the Haly Street shops and the condition of George Street, the Memerambi estate, the general run-down condition of Kingaroy, the carpark behind the Commonwealth Bank, the future of the Kingaroy Streetscape project, welcoming signs, and the need to plant more trees.
And why doesn’t Council have a Reconciliation Action Plan?
A few of the questions sounded like potential “stump” speeches … after all, the next Council election is due in March.
There were technical questions about debt reduction strategies, Council’s Budget and “investment ready” economic development.
Answers touched on Council’s strategic review of water and wastewater assets, with possible future projects including a water pipeline to Nanango, and work on Gordonbrook Dam.
Mayor Campbell again expressed his hope more water would be made available to advance agriculture and related value-adding in the region but stressed the politics around water issues were very complicated.
Cr Terry Fleischfresser listed some of the projects that had occurred – or were about to occur – in the area during this Council term, including three wind farms (one is on the way), a solar farm, expansions at Crumptons, two new garages … other major developments were also planned but were “commercial in confidence”.
One questioner asked if there would be a “further reduction” in Council services, claiming there was a perception in the community that services had been wound back since amalgamation.
This was countered from the top table, with councillors pointing out that – unlike what had happened in other regions – all swimming pools, libraries, halls and rural tips had been maintained in the South Burnett after amalgamation.
Cr Fleischfresser, however, sounded an ominous note suggesting there could be “a lot of angst over the next few years”.
“We have some major infrastructure costs coming up,” he said.
“How we are going to get over that will take a lot of planning and foresight … I believe, honestly, that we have too many assets; we have too many sporting facilities.
“Our swimming pools here at the moment are costing us between $800,000 and a million dollars a year just in operations.
“We have libraries with a similar figure.”
Cr Fleischfresser warned there would be some tough times coming.
“There is going to be some sad news and there is going to be a lot of angst over the next four years when we start looking at these assets that we either dump or completely take off the ledger,” he said.
A suggestion for a free caravan park to be established in the Kingaroy CBD was ruled out by CEO Mark Pitt who said it could be challenged in court, and Council would most likely lose.
“It’s not like it hasn’t been thought about or explored,” he said.
“But the practicalities are extremely difficult and most unlikely.”
Mayor Campbell defended the decision to hold Kingaroy’s listening tour meeting in the afternoon rather than at night, suggesting that from past experience not many people attended.
He said people who were working could attend one of the night meetings in other towns.
Council scheduled eight listening tour events this week. Still to come are:
Bunya Mountains’ residents will get their turn on October 21 from 1:00-3:00pm at Poppies On The Hill.
In a media statement on Thursday, Mayor Keith Campbell said it was a priority for Council to listen to the community.
“During the last five meetings we have been able to gain various viewpoints about issues and challenges facing our individual communities. From this feedback, we are able to gather a different perspective and open up the conversation about concerns that are affecting the whole region,” he said.
“The listening tours are also a great opportunity for the community to share their thoughts and ideas on a range of South Burnett Regional Council projects and activities.”
The Council statement said:
Footnote: southburnett.com.au did not count the two reporters at the Kingaroy meeting, which would take the number to 13.