It makes me proud to stand here today alongside my colleagues to set a clear path for the year ahead to drive the region forward and importantly to continue to build on our vision for our region's long term future.
The Western Downs is positioning itself as a diverse region at the forefront of the changing world, and as we move into a new financial year, we are presented with abundant opportunities to further-enhance our liveability and the place we all call home.
Council has the critical role of supporting a growing region while responsibly aligning its budget with high-quality service delivery, good management of assets, and balancing global financial pressures.
Local Governments across Australia are continuing to experience a range of challenges which are significantly impacting the cost of supplies, labour, fuel, and materials.
The hard work we have done over recent years to build a strong financial position means we don't have to reduce services, and we are able to focus on the fundamentals of high-quality Council service delivery.
Our region is experiencing growth which is backed by a strong, diverse economy, and we expect much more growth in the coming years. This budget ensures we are focused on getting the basics right by investing in quality, essential services and delivering modern infrastructure to support this growth.
I am proud of the fact that we have budgeted to deliver a budget surplus of $2.7M this year with a total operating expenditure of over $168.5 million and a total capital investment of $180.8 million. We have an average general rates increase of 3.8% and a 2.8% increase for utility charges, which I am pleased to report comes in significantly lower than the current inflation rate thanks to Council's years of responsible financial management.
It is important to note our region has recently undergone a land re-evaluation by the Queensland Government, which has seen land valuations increase by an average of 66% and with some valuations as much as 104%. 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.
We are also continuing to match the State Government’s Rates Subsidy Scheme, offering qualifying pensioners a 20% rebate on rates and charges excluding water consumption – up to a maximum of $200 per year.
The focus of our financial strategy in the year ahead is about high-quality service delivery and investing in modern infrastructure to build a stronger future for the region.
This year we continue the massive task of repairing our roads and bridges following consecutive flooding events in the past two years. The cost of our damage repair program is in excess of $160 million, and reaches every corner of our the region.
While our priority is ensuring our roads are safe, we’re also enhancing connectivity across the region to keep pace with our region’s growing needs – and will also deliver a $21.6 million capital works program to improving local roads, bridges, stormwater and footpaths. This year, our capital works program will also include resilience projects, which is about enhancing key infrastructure to better-withstand floods in the future.
Ensuring our community is as prepared as possible for natural disasters is a key part of this year's budget. With help from state and federal government disaster funding, we will undertake a region-wide flood gauge upgrade program to improve our access to reliable, timely information. This is crucial during times of wet weather and will greatly improve disaster response and community resilience.
A quality lifestyle is underpinned by quality essential services, and this budget includes a $12.6 million investment into our water supply and treatment infrastructure.
While we continue to advocate for stronger water security – specifically the development of Nathan Dam, Council is investing in quality infrastructure through the multi-year project to increase Dalby's town water supply. Long-term water sources and supply are critical for the future growth of the region and our local economy, and this program also includes vital maintenance to our supply infrastructure in several towns.
Our popular water tank rebate scheme will also continue this financial year, offering a valuable support measure to boost water storage capacity across the region.
We continue to invest in quality fleet and plant equipment to ensure we are managing our assets effectively, with $5.9 million invested this financial year to keep service delivery of a high standard.
We're driving the economy and are progressing a range of future-focused initiatives to remain at the forefront of the changing world.
We will progress into the second year of our Digitalisation Implementation Program, which is about ensuring modern and future-focused operations to enhance our service delivery and customer experience.
Off the back of meaningful community engagement and the development of strategies for much-loved community facilities and assets, we will complete several masterplans to set a clear program of improvements for the future. This includes masterplans for our showgrounds and aquatic facilities, and masterplans for key spaces such as Lions Park in Jandowae and the Chinchilla Botanic Parkland's indigenous area.
The planning and development of a new cultural precinct for Dalby will continue this year, and we will invest in the progression of the region’s first community-led strategy to address social challenges across the region known as ‘Western Downs Futures’, which is about working side by side with our community to improve the liveability of the Western Downs.
This year we will celebrate several brand-new community facilities, with exciting community events to be hosted at Mary's Place at Dalby, Tara Aquatic Centre, and the Russell Park Mountain Bike Trails at the Bunya Mountains, and the revitalised Chinchilla Cultural Precinct. These intergenerational projects have enhanced the liveability of the Western Downs, and we can't wait to celebrate their completion very soon.
We want to ensure our recreational spaces and community facilities are safe, attractive and accessible for all residents.
This budget includes a $1.7 million investment into our much-loved parks, open spaces and cemeteries, including a project to deliver new shelters, picnic tables, and barbeques at Morgan Place at Miles, and the completion of a revitalisation of Waterloo Plains Environmental Park at Wandoan.
As we invest in creating exciting spaces to bring the people together, we also need to ensure our facilities are alive with activity. This budget includes funding for a variety of wonderful initiatives to boost creativity in the region, such as the progression of a new regional sculpture and public art trail, Regional Artists' Exhibition, community pool parties, movie nights, and comedy shows.
We recognise the importance of grassroots initiatives and community-driven events, and have allocated more than $461,000 to diverse community grants and funding opportunities this year.
We’re a forward-thinking Council committed to attracting business and investment opportunities for the region now and into the future.
In the year ahead, Council will complete a carbon emissions study to understand how we contribute to carbon emissions and explore how we can achieve carbon neutrality and work towards a cleaner, more sustainable future.
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, and we will also deliver a brand new tourist attraction at Bell, which will see the installation of a giant wind turbine blade to tell the story of the region’s strong energy sector.
In conclusion, I would like to acknowledge the work of both Councillors and staff in preparing this budget for the Western Downs community.
This budget ensures Council delivers critical services and infrastructure to our community while continuing to invest in initiatives to drive the the economic growth and enhance the liveability of the region for generations to come.