It is my pleasure to officially present the adopted 2022-23 Council Budget.
The Western Downs is surging ahead as a diverse region at the forefront of the changing world, and is fast becoming one of the most desirable regions to live, work and raise a family.
Right now, local governments across Australia are grappling with global pressures presenting a wide range of challenges.
Increasing costs due to supply shortages, recent increases in the rate of inflation, and significant damage costs associated with five consecutive flood events since November have all placed pressure on Council and our region.
But what sets this Council apart, is the hard work we have done in recent years to ensure our region is well-placed to tackle challenges such as these head on and provide our residents with certainty into the future.
As our region continues to grow and prosper, it's important we continue to maintain our assets and keep up our high standard of essential services, while also balancing the impacts of costs and we are fortunate to have put our Council in a position where we don't have to reduce services.
The Western Downs economy is thriving and continues to demonstrate its desirability as an ideal place to invest and call home.
In 2021 the number of people migrating to our region from city areas increased by a massive 48%, the third highest increase in the country, and demonstration of our region's continuing growth and vitality.
To cater to this growth, Council must ensure our region is backed by modern and reliable infrastructure and quality essential services.
We hear it reported in the News daily the pressures created by a national inflation rate of 5.1% and the increasing cost of materials, fuel and energy. Balancing these factors with a commitment to providing high quality services to our residents, while also measuring the impact of costs was a tough decision in preparing this year's budget.
The total operating expenditure of this year's budget is over $153 million and includes a total capital spend of $56 million. We have a general rates increase of 3.9%, which I am pleased to report comes in much lower than the current inflation rate thanks to Council's years of responsible financial management.
This modest rate increase shows our community that we are able to continue our standard of service while keeping costs as low as possible in the current climate.
A key focus of Council's financial strategy is long term asset management. Capital works investment in our assets and strategies for maintenance now, will ensure their long term viability and reduce maintenance costs in the long term.
We know our roads and bridges have suffered enormously due to consecutive flooding events in recent months, and this year Council will be commencing the mammoth job of repairing our damaged network with vital state and federal disaster recovery funding.
While our priority is ensuring our roads are safe, we’re also bolstering connectivity across the region to keep pace with our region’s growing needs – and will be delivering $21 million capital works this year to improve local roads – outside of our flood recovery program.
$10.7 million allocated to water and sewerage infrastructure upgrades and preventative asset maintenance, and $5.25 million funding for fleet and plant equipment.
Despite higher than usual rainfall this year, Council continues to be future focused and prepare for times of lower rainfall.
Water is our most precious resource, and like many other regional areas, long term water sources and supply is critical for the future growth of the region and our local economy. We will be strongly advocating for new water sources and supply for our region's future.
We will continue a significant investment into the long-term viability of the Dalby town water supply, which will underpin the economy for the whole region, with $6.45 million allocated to progressing important infrastructure improvements this financial year.
I am proud to announce that the popular water tank rebate scheme will continue this financial year. This program was originally announced in 2020, and continues to be a valuable support measure to boost community resilience and water storage capacity across the region.
Already we have seen a massive 6.3 additional megalitres of water added to our region's private supply as a result of the scheme, which is a fantastic outcome.
This year we continue to focus on the long-term needs of our community and deliver on our commitment to a 5 year corporate plan. As such, Council will be using this year to develop key strategies for the future of our valued community facilities.
We will be commencing the development of a Regional Showgrounds Strategy and an Aquatic and Recreation Facilities Strategy with the goals of ensuring our facilities are well maintained, continue to meet the needs of the region and work towards a clear vision for the future.
We are also continuing to match the State Government’s Rates Subsidy Scheme, offering qualifying pensioners a 20% rebate on eligible rates and charges.
Liveability is highly important and I'm happy to say that Council’s popular Adopt a Street Tree Program will also continue this year, with nearly $400,000 committed to this fabulous program.
Since its introduction in 2017, 5,753 trees have been planted across the Western Downs, making our region cleaner, greener and strengthening community pride.
We want to ensure our recreational spaces and community facilities are safe, attractive and accessible for all residents.
This budget includes a $11.37 million investment into our much-loved parks, open spaces and cemeteries.
Following on from a huge program of works to upgrade prominent facilities across the region, this year will see the completion of a further three major projects to drive economic growth and boost our great liveability.
A new public space at the former Mary’s Commercial Hotel site at 120 Cunningham Street in Dalby will be completed, offering something special for the CBD and creating a vibrant space for residents and visitors.
A new adrenaline experience to boost visitor numbers to the region will be finalised this year, with works to be completed on the Russell Park Mountain Bike Trails.
As we invest in creating exciting spaces to bring the people together, we also need to ensure our facilities are alive with activities – so almost $3 million will be invested in local community programs this year.
This includes funding for a variety of wonderful initiatives to boost creativity in the region, including a new placemaking and public art program, plus the return of performing arts and stand up comedy shows and the Regional Artists Exhibition.
Additionally, Council understands the importance of supporting the work of our amazing community groups and has committed $950,000 to ensure the continuation of their vital work in the region.
We’re a forward-thinking Council, committed to ensuring our region continues to prosper now, and into the future. Our economy has seen a 34% increase in our Gross Regional Product in the last five years and this Council will continue to aggressively attract business and investment opportunities across the region.
Our region has built a reputation as a premier destination for major events in Queensland, that drive tourism and energize our local economy.
This budget includes funding for our renowned festivals and events including the Big Skies Festival which returns this September to the stunning Jimbour House. We will also welcome the return of Words Out West, and the famous Opera at Jimbour.
We also continue to support our fabulous community-driven destination events, with funding allocated to support Dalby Delicious and DeLIGHTful Festival, Tara Festival of Culture & Camel Races and the Chinchilla Melon Festival.
We empower our communities to deliver initiatives and events, and we are delighted to see these festivals continuing to drive visitation and connect our region.
In conclusion, I would like to acknowledge the work and fantastic collaboration of both Councillors and staff in preparing this budget for the Western Downs community.
This budget is about providing certainty and long-term security for our growing region – balancing the needs of the community whilst competing with external factors and seizing opportunities to deliver a strong future for the Western Downs.
Mayor Paul McVeigh