Noosa Council has been out spruiking its 2022 budget like a newly-painted, second-hand car. Can I suggest you kick the tyres and check under the bonnet before you buy this one?
The Council’s Financial Sustainability Policy lists 10 objectives that ‘will’ be achieved by ‘responsible ongoing financial management’. First on the list is ‘Council operates in an efficient manner, minimising general rate increases’.
That’s not just a bunch of words. It’s a foundation principle. Or it should be.
As ratepayers, we are entitled to ask how this budget stacks up against that prime policy objective.
The spin coming from Pelican street suggests “The minimum general rate will increase by 5 percent which is lower than the south-east Queensland CPI.”
But councils don’t spend the minimum general rate, they spend the TOTAL amount collected from all ratepayers. And that amount has now been increased by almost three times the CPI over the last 2 years. Almost triple the inflation rate!
That would have to be a record rates increase for Noosa Council, not a hint of ‘minimising general rate increases’ here.
Half of the increase has been spent on employee costs that have increased by more than 20% over 2 years, including 11% in this budget. The council hasn’t improved its service levels for years, so that’s not where all the rest is going.
Clearly the ‘Council operates in an efficient manner’ part of the management objective has gone missing.
I have previously written about this year’s budget consultation, delayed until after the budget was all but signed, sealed and delivered. (Council’s rationalisation for this was that it had already listened to, and taken into account, ratepayers commenting on the earlier Liveability Survey).
As expected, suggestions by ratepayers made little difference to the final budget.
Council staff reported on the top 10 increases suggested by community respondents, in order of importance.
- Top of the public’s list was more infrastructure spending – roads, bridges, stormwater. Result – no increase in budget.
- Second in importance was environment. Result – an extra staff member, plus $95,000 extra allocation from environment levy funds.
- Numbers 3 to 9 on the list. Result – no change to the budget for any of these 7 suggestions.
- Number 10 was economic development. Result – $125,000 extra to each of Tourism Noosa and Council’s Economic Development branch.
Council also decided that renewal fees for registration of Short Term Accommodation premises would not be required for the 2022/3 financial year.
So the community consultation resulted in increases in the draft budget to already bloated rates revenue and staff costs. None of the public’s recommended reductions in expenditure to pay for suggested increases were adopted by Council.
The largest cost item was the additional $250,000 handout to the business community despite being bottom of the list. That’s in addition to the record allocation of over $4 million already in the draft budget.
It’s unlikely most participants in this last-minute ‘consultation’ process will see the results as anything other than contemptuous. It will be confirmation of the increasing view that this Council puts business ahead of community, at the community’s expense.
Now let’s finish with the following, final comment in the consultation report to Council.
‘Community trust will likely be eroded should Council determine to abandon future consultation’.
I’m confident our community can smell the difference between genuine consultation and what has occurred this year. They won’t be buying this budget, or this process.