Ratepayers slugged by bigger bills

HOMEOWNERS in the region face a further decade of inflation-busting rates rises.

And the pain will be magnified by substantial increases in water and sewerage charges, and an additional carbon tax levy.

The dismal prospect for ratepayers is revealed in a credit review of Rockhampton Regional Council's finances by the Queensland Treasury Corporation which ranks its position as moderate with a neutral outlook.

The ranking is likely to be seized upon by critics as evidence that the authority has lived beyond its means in the last four years and that amalgamation has failed, especially as debt is forecast to keep on growing..

The review makes sombre reading for hard-hit residents who have endured rates increases totalling 28.2% over four years.

With inflation predicted to remain at about 3.2% a year over the next 10 years, the review predicts an 8.5% rise in the council's general rates this year, and average increases in excess of 5% a year until 2021.

It reveals the council is planning to increase its revenue from rates and utilities by 9.6% a year over the next three years.

And that is what will be required for the council to simply maintain the current level of services, factoring in an average population growth of about 1.7% a year.

The council's workforce of 1200 are also in for belt tightening, it says.

Since amalgamation staff have received a wages and salaries increase of 5% a year. But the treasury says the council's hopes of returning an operating surplus by 2015 rest on renegotiating the generous enterprise bargaining agreement.

It says increases should be no more than 3.2% and suggests that there must be tight control of core operating expenses. This could be interpreted as a call for a reduction in staff numbers.

Staff discontent is distinctly possible.

"A reduction to this level may be difficult to implement given the demand for skilled staff from the mining sector, nearby developments such as the LNG projects in Gladstone and the annual increase of 5% under the current EBA," it says.

One telling comment in its report says: "If the council is unable to implement rates and utilities increases as planned and employee costs are higher than forecast, the council's ability to withstand any significant adverse impacts to its financial profile is likely to be limited.

"There could also be pressure on the capital expenditure program, particularly if operating cashflows are reduced and the council had reduced capacity to service borrowings."

Ratepayers are likely to be slugged with a $60 levy per rateable property to meet the additional annual costs associated with the carbon tax and the report warns that councillors will be under severe pressure by residents suffering financial hardship to keep rates increases down.

 

Fast facts

The review makes sombre reading for hard-hit residents who have endured rates increases totalling 28.2% over four years.



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