COUNCIL BUDGET: What it means for rates
THE majority of the region's rate payers can breathe a sigh of relief when it comes to their upcoming general payments.
Most of the general rate payments have decreased or been stabilised, however the Bundaberg Regional Council's 2020/21 budget announced today has forecast a 3.08 per cent increase in total rate revenue, mostly in the agricultural sector because of higher valuations.
While the coronavirus pandemic has taken a multi-million dollar toll on the region, Mayor Jack Dempsey dubbed it a "responsible budget in difficult times".
With a $2.8m revenue loss amid virus restrictions and the budget forecasting a $5.26m deficit as a result of COVID-19 impacts, he said this budget would assist ratepayers and provide economic stimulus incentives.
Facing an "invisible enemy", Mr Dempsey said they've taken many hits and the war, while expensive, wasn't over; "but we're holding our ground".
Finance spokesman Steve Cooper said they had to be fair to the ratepayers in how the funds were distributed.
"We had to try to give them extension of payment time, which is something that, if people can't afford to pay, we recommend that they talk to us about the time that they have to make that payment," he said.
"There'll be no interest charges on overdue payments to the 1st of January 2021 - so that's a big relief for people.
"We've removed the early-payment discount, which was $112 for the average residential ratepayer," Cr Cooper said.
"In doing that we had to take out or adjust the discount that we've previously given, that has come off the top of everybody's rates."
Mr Cooper said it was about $112 per ratepayer that they had "taken off the top" to make it equitable for all.
Despite their efforts, some will not see a reduction.
Some properties, particularly agricultural land, which Mr Cooper said had seen more than a 40 per cent increase in land valuation, may be impacted.
"Valuation's in the dollar, and the valuation we've taken up - we did consider it with a lot of concern for those taking high risks - but we really did accept the fact that the people that are getting the rates increase because of the valuation have had a very successful time," he said.
"I know there will be some fringe farming areas, but when you look at the numbers and we've looked at the detail, those numbers are very very few.
"And in most cases, they are legitimate, those charges are legitimate."
Mr Cooper said some of the nut farm valuations were "extremely high", because that's what they paid for the land.
Reportedly, of the 1797 farming properties, only about 50 made objections to the Valuer-General.
Moving from a $500,000 surplus to more than $5m deficit, Mr Cooper said what they were providing came at a cost.
He said they worked hard as a previous council to make sure that money was in the bank.
"Three months ago, I wouldn't have expected to be using it the way we have, but COVID came along, fortunately we had the money for a rainy day," Mr Cooper said.
He said there's also zero increase in water access and consumption charges.
"The pensioner discount remains at $165, which benefits 10,166 ratepayers at a cost of $1.7 million," Mr Cooper said.
There's set to be a two per cent increase for waste collection charges ($7) and a 2.5 per cent increase for sewerage connections ($19 per pedestal).
With regards to boosting the economy and jobs, a $83m capital works program has been announced as part of the budget.
"There's support for the construction industry to power the engine of economic recovery.
"And there's a helping hand for sporting organisations to get back on their feet."
The Budget forecasts a $5.26 million deficit due to COVID impacts.
"Unless there's a second wave, Council will return to a balanced budget in 2021-22 with no increase in loans," Mayor Dempsey said.
Coming up: The NewsMail will provide a breakdown of the Building Bundaberg Region package, capital works projects and more from the Budget meeting.