Rockhampton Mayor Margaret Strelow.
Rockhampton Mayor Margaret Strelow. Kelly Butterworth

Mayor says residents back budget cuts to Heritage Village

Mayor Margaret Strelow refuses to back down on her tough love strategy for the Rocky council budget. Here is her response to calls for more support for Heritage Village volunteers following funding cuts there in 2013.

There have been a string of text messages (in The Morning Bulletin) about the cuts at the Heritage Village in 2013.

The staff cuts there were one of the things we did to turn the budget around after deamalgamation.

Many of you will remember the 'your budget your choice' meetings prior to the 2013 budget.

I knew in preparing that budget - that we had to do some tough things and recognised that the council didn't have the right to make those decisions alone.

The consultation process was thorough and extensive.

We conducted 16 different meetings with over 600 people in all. There was an option for online or paper copy participation in the survey too. Each meeting was made up of invited representatives from sporting or social clubs or various groups across the region. From a statistician's point of view we ended up with the right mix of people and enough people to represent the community with a 95% degree of confidence in the result. At the meetings both senior staff and myself walked the attendees through the financial data and Treasury assessments of our future.

And then a number of cost-cutting options were presented to get the budget back in shape.

There were some clear messages from the public which were published in the media and on our website. For example, the zoo was not to be touched.

Another was that we were prepared to let mowing in some less-used parks 'slide out' a little bit longer between mowings. We agreed as a community not to heat the Southside pool quite as high as it had been.

And 50% of people were prepared to have the Heritage Village completely run by an external community group. A further 28% said they could be persuaded to that option. This would have taken $735,000 from the council's budget. In the end this option didn't eventuate (we couldn't find a group willing to take on the Village) and so council reduced our permanent staff at the Heritage Village from 7.6 staff to three fulltime and two part-time staff (one at 29 hrs and the other at 30 hrs).

So the text messages are right - yes, we have cut staff.

I've had to do some tough things this term. But I can't promise to undo these things just to win your vote now. The budget is not a magic pudding.

As you will recall when I was re-elected in 2012 I found a dysfunctional council, a bitterly divided community, and the promise of a vote on deamalgamation already made by the new Newman government.

Debt had risen in the four years I was out of office from $84 million to $220 million (and there were a couple of big items that had been ordered by the previous Council but not yet paid for too). The eventual deamalgamation only compounded our budget woes.

We (RRC) are now paying $10 million a year to service our share of the extra debt run up in those four years.

A flood and a cyclone haven't helped either.

We now have cohesive council, a solid budget surplus, debt going down and the opportunity to set a new direction for our region. Even Queensland Treasury Corporation is singing our praises.

I am enthusiastic about our opportunities and I'm asking for your support to help create our future.

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