Potential rate rise debate to be held behind closed doors

TENSIONS were high at the livestreamed Rockhampton Regional Council meeting on Tuesday as councillors discussed the sensitive issue of general rates and charges for the 2020/21 budget.

The matter has been a hot topic for the past few weeks as council explores options to potentially increase rates and charges to offset revenue losses from the fallout effects of COVID-19 in its income stream.

Council has lost a significant amount of income from Rockhampton Airport as planes were grounded with travel bans and also from a lack of development application fees, as businesses were forced to put projects on hold.

At the meeting, Councillor Cherie Rutherford put forward a motion to have the matter workshopped in a meeting closed to the public.

“We have some very difficult decisions to make and some very difficult decisions to share with our community,” she said to the table.

“When we have a clearer picture we can bring it to the council meeting.”

Mayor Margaret Strelow counteracted this with a view of bringing budget deliberations into open session.

“I believe now more than ever our community need to see the budget journey in all of its messiness, so that they will understand both the complexity of the budget and how difficult it is going to be to satisfy competing priorities,” she said as part of a statement to the table.

This caused some debate around the table as Councillor Tony Williams shared Cr Rutherford’s stance of keeping the meetings closed, as did Councillor Ellen Smith.

Deputy Mayor Neil Fisher took Mayor Strelow’s side however the majority of councillors indicated they wanted the budget discussions to be in closed session.

They shared the general consensus of workshopping their options and coming to a firm conclusion to avoid alarming the public with a range of possibilities.

Therefore the motion to open the meeting was lost and discussions around the rates and budget were then moved to go into closed session.

It was noted in the meeting agenda, rates and charges represented 71 per cent of council’s total revenue in the 2019/20 budget, raising $156.6 million.

Tuesday’s agenda noted a potential 2.5 per cent rates increase for 2020-21 which was the subject of heavy debate at last week’s council meeting.

Mayor Strelow and all councillors were approached for comment.

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