South Burnett Regional Council has axed a proposal to hire a consultant to advise it on “Budget repair”
Cr Kathy Duff

April 28, 2021

by Dafyd Martindale

Public reaction to a proposal by the South Burnett Regional Council to bring in an external consultant to effect “Budget repair” has led to a change of heart.

At Wednesday’s General Meeting, Councillors reversed a decision taken earlier this month to hire a consultant on a 12-month contract and voted to use their own skills instead.

The decision will save ratepayers a six-figure sum and could also mark a sea change in the Council’s use of consultants.

Cr Kathy Duff told she thought Council relied too much on consultants and believed several other Councillors held the same view.

Councillors knew what was happening in their communities, she said.

So if economies needed to be found to get Council’s Budget back into the black by 2023-24, they were best placed to effect changes that would negatively impact as few people as possible.

This year, SBRC expects to hand down a deficit of $4.65 million, and Mayor Brett Otto has warned this could balloon to more than $8 million next year if remedial action isn’t taken.

But with Council rates already high, there is little appetite for excessive rate rises over the next few years to plug the finance gap.

This means the only alternative is to reduce expenses and services – something all Councillors have shied away from since the 2008 amalgamation – and try to increase revenues at the region’s tourist parks or find additional profit-making ventures.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Mayor Otto said achieving a turnaround in Council’s finances would require courage from his fellow Councillors, but he was confident they would rise to the challenge.

He then moved an amended motion from the floor that Council work with CEO Mark Pitt to develop a strategy for a “path to profit” by 2023-24.

Work on the strategy will commence in July with the final strategy presented for adoption next June.

This motion was passed unanimously.

* * *

Mayor Otto will be joining other Mayors from around the nation at the Australian Local Government Association’s annual conference in Canberra on June 20-23 to press for more Federal funding.

As it has for many years, the ALGA is expected to call on the Federal Government to increase Councils’ share of Commonwealth tax income to 1 per cent.

At present, Councils receive slightly more than half a per cent and in Queensland, the Auditor-General recently warned that up to one-third of the State’s 77 councils are at risk of becoming insolvent if urgent action to fix their finances isn’t taken soon.

Most of these are rural, regional and Indigenous councils with rates bases too small to viably support the services most urban Australians now take for granted.

The Mayor will be accompanied on his trip by Deputy Mayor Gavin Jones, Cr Kirstie Schumacher and possibly one of Council’s three General Managers.

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