April 21, 2021
South Burnett Regional Council will face a deficit of $4.65 million this year and could face an even higher deficit next year unless it undertakes urgent budget repairs.
This sobering news was delivered at the Council’s Corporate standing committee meeting on Wednesday.
Mayor Brett Otto said continued deficits could rapidly push the South Burnett into the same position as the neighbouring North Burnett and Gympie regional councils, and action needed to be taken to return the Budget to surplus by 2023-24.
The Mayor said the North Burnett was holding a series of “Between A Rock And A Hard Place” community consultation meetings this month to appraise their region the NBRC needed to reconsider road maintenance, pools, waste facilities, libraries, showgrounds and mowing because it did not have enough income to support current outlays.
Gympie, too, was facing “very tough” decisions after incoming Councillors discovered soon after last year’s election that most of Council’s reserves had been spent and it had to borrow money to pay wages.
Mayor Otto said he did not want to leave the South Burnett with a similar legacy – especially considering he had promised better financial management as part of his election campaign.
The discussion about the region’s finances came as Council considered calling tenders for an external consultant to advise it on ways to return Council’s budget to good order.
Mayor Otto said the advantage of hiring an external group was that they could bring “fresh eyes” to the problem and may be able to suggest solutions Councillors and staff hadn’t looked at.
One issue he was keen to see examined was Council assets because the amount Council had to set aside in depreciation for their eventual replacement was very large.
Cr Kathy Duff reminded the meeting that when the South Burnett Regional Council was formed in 2008, it had inherited a combined debt of more than $6 million and was put under watch by Queensland Treasury because it was regarded as financially unsound.
She said if Council continued on its current path she could see the same happening again, and was keen to avoid this.
Cr Gavin Jones said he was not opposed to the idea of bringing external eyes to the problem, but said he would object strenuously to any reduction in the Council’s outlays on roads.
He believed that after several years of hard work on the region’s road network, now was not the time to back off.
Cr Roz Frohloff said both Councillors and ratepayers needed to realise there were likely to be some tough decisions that will need to be made.
“Ratepayers want the best of everything but do not want to pay for it,” Cr Frohloff said.
“So if the report comes back and tells us we have to rationalise, will we have the balls to do it?”
CEO Mark Pitt said he thought the best procedure would be to spend the next 10 weeks scoping the problem and running it by Treasury officials.
Council would then call a tender for a consultant and would specify a final report date of June 30, 2022.
Councillors voted 4 to 2 to tender for an external consultant, with Crs Jones and Henschen opposed and Cr Potter absent.
- Editorial: It’s Time For Tough Decisions