Rockhampton Region deputy mayor, Cherie Rutherford and mayor, Mayor Margaret Strelow.
Rockhampton Region deputy mayor, Cherie Rutherford and mayor, Mayor Margaret Strelow. Contributed

REVEALED: Councillors speak out on 'frayed edges' of budget

THE MAYOR has hit back strongly after some councillors criticised the budget process, which gives the mayor alone power to draft the budget.

Margaret Strelow said she makes no apology for being "very disciplined” with the budget and the financial results speak for themselves.

Last Friday's special meeting resulted in a fiery debate among councillors, who eventually passed the budget with only Cr Rose Swadling voting against it.

But the process lead to frustrations with tempers boiling over and calls for legislative change at a state level.

Cr Neil Fisher said the process of formulating budgets was a fundamental difference between Queensland mayors and councillors.

Cr Strelow maintains that councillors workshop the budget, know what is in there and have "lots of opportunity to go back and talk to all of the senior officers”.

She said Rockhampton Region councillors had longer than the legislation requires for them to make amendments.

Mayor Margaret Strelow budget.
Mayor Margaret Strelow budget. Allan Reinikka ROK260618abudget2

READ: 'It's a mayor's budget: Tempers boil over as latest budget adopted

READ: 'No apology' Mayor hits back at Rocky budget criticism

READ: What Rockhampton Region's budget has in store by division

Cr Fisher agrees the budget is fundamentally sound but it's the "frayed edges” where the issues lie.

"The workshops highlight every part of the budget, from individual department to smaller projects in the divisions,” he said yesterday.

"But that's where the councillors' involvement stops.

"From there it's the mayor, the chief financial officer and the general managers.”

He said the workshops were the last chance councillors had to "run a fine tooth comb through it” before the budget announcement.

Cr. Neil Fisher is on top of the world after a health scare which has seen him start to work on his health and fitness.
Cr. Neil Fisher is on top of the world after a health scare which has seen him start to work on his health and fitness. Chris Ison ROK201017cfisher2

"Yes, we had longer time but it was during that time, while we were doing our due diligence, we found out projects we thought were in the budget during the workshops were omitted.”

Deputy mayor, Cherie Rutherford said frustration at Friday's meeting started because councillors didn't have the same input as in previous years.

"Not all debate is bad...people are passionate and it shows they care,” she said.

"The mayor has the unenviable task of trying to keep everybody happy.

"Every councillor has pet projects and passions and she has to keep that in balance. I don't envy that at all.”

Cr Rutherford said the mayor controlled rate rises, debt and borrowing.

Cr. Cherie Rutherford at Kershaw Gardens as the new playground starts to take shape.
Cr. Cherie Rutherford at Kershaw Gardens as the new playground starts to take shape. Chris Ison ROK210618cKershaw1

She agreed it was a good budget overall but a workshop where councillors could advocate for their constituents was missing from this year's process.

"That's where we can say that our community feels something else is more important and this year we didn't get that opportunity,” she said.

Cr Fisher's division has a number of drainage issues, including a couple of houses that become inundated with flood waters and during this year's workshops he thought the project had priority.

It didn't and he said there was no opportunity to talk about it.

"We know we'll never get every project up, but to find out why it didn't make the cut, or ask whether it could have been staged over three years...that's what is missing.

"The way the Act allows the budget to be formulated does leave councillors out of the final decision...and we're the ones on the ground talking to people in our divisions.”

Cr Strelow stands behind the process and said if the Act had not given power to the mayor to formulate the budget, she doesn't believe she would have been able to "pull the budget around” as well as she has.

Since being returned to office in 2012, $35 million debt has been repaid.

"I absolutely need councillor support, but sometimes you need someone to draw a line and hold it,” she said.

"It would be lovely to make everybody happy but it is not the right thing for our future.”



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