FOR EVERY $100: Where your money is going.
FOR EVERY $100: Where your money is going. Contributed

Council deliver first budget after debt repayment

DELIVERING a budget in the surplus for the first time in years, the Western Downs Regional Council is ensuring ratepayers' money will go back into making the region more liveable.

Promises of enhanced liveability, growing businesses and investments in the environment dominate the budget announced by mayor Paul McVeigh on Tuesday afternoon.

"From over $63 million as at January 1, 2016 to nil in under four years, council has confirmed its reputation as one of the most financially responsible councils in Queensland,” Cr McVeigh said.

"Being able to operate with a profit over the last few years has given us a strong financial foundation and equipped us to manage future challenges.”

Following upgrades to facilities and amenities that have occurred in the early stages of the council's four-year term, advancements in libraries, cinemas, parks and playgrounds will start thanks to this year's budget.

However, there are still challenges for the council to overcome.

An increase in domestic and non-domestic kerbside waste collections along with the state government's recent introduction of the waste levy is one of many.

Domestic kerbside waste collection charges increased by 2.5 per cent, while non-domestic charges have increased by $71.20.

In 2019/20, council predicts to come out with $1.8 million of operating profits.

Total operating revenues and operating expenses are expected to be approximately $150 million and $148.2 million respectively.

Rates

DALBY ratepayers will receive some of Queensland's lowest rate notices in the mail through 2019/2020, with an increase set at 1.25 per cent.

At the official budget announcement, Western Downs mayor Paul McVeigh praised the efforts of the councillors for their hard work and ideas that kept the community's needs at heart.

"Western Downs Regional Council has worked very hard to achieve an outstanding result for the 2019-20 Budget, with an average rate rise of just 1.25per cent, undoubtedly being one of the lowest in the state,” Cr McVeigh said.

"We have focused on making our region more affordable for families and businesses with great liveability, with all the conveniences of modern infrastructure and high-quality essential services and excellent recreational spaces and sport and community facilities provided throughout the region.”

The region will experience a maximum rate increase of 6.25 per cent.

This is hoped to improve liveability in the region.

"Western Downs Regional Council prides itself on being a place that makes professional opportunities happen for a diverse range people in the region and are very proud of the growing number of trainees becoming ongoing members of the council team,” Cr McVeigh said.”

Roads

A $39.3 million spend on Western Downs roads, bridges and footpaths will boost exporter productivity, safety and liveability, according to councillor Greg Olm.

After what was one of the darkest weeks in our region's history with eight road crash related deaths, locals called on the government to take action.

Home to Queensland's largest network of roads in a single area, thousands of kilometres of Western Downs roads will need to be maintained throughout the next 12 months.

It's why the council has needed to dedicate a majority of the funding to roads and streets.

Cr Olm said the scope of the area council oversaw was expansive and could not be dealt with alone.

"There are over 7500km of local roads which council needs to maintain in terms of upgrades, reseals and gravel re-sheet programs, with a further 1810 kilometres of state-owned roads in the region, maintained by council on behalf of the Department of Transport and Main Roads in consultation with council,” he said.

Council also said they aimed to place safety at the forefront of their investment into roads.

"Council has a keen interest in ensuring that everyone driving on our roads feels safe, whether they are locals, tourists or commercial enterprises travelling along our important freight routes,” Cr McVeigh said.

Water and Sewerage

MUCH-needed upgrades to the region's water infrastructure has resulted in the water budget almost doubling compared to 2018/2019.

A total of $20.96 million has been pledged to water and sewerage, including $1.3 million for water mains replacement and $2.2 million for relining sewers.

Councillor Peter Saxelby told the Dalby Herald the funding increase was to battle existing infrastructure issues.

"Council's allocation to relining the sewerage mains has more than doubled with $2.271 million being allocated this year,” Cr Saxelby said.

"However, what we have needed is a better system to monitor and manage water quality and throughput.

"We also have to sure that effluent, after being treated and discharged, has no impact on the environment.”

About $1 million has also been allocated to increase Dalby's water treatment capacity.

Jandowae's sewerage treatment facility will also reap the benefits of a $350,000 bout of funding to upgrade the plant, while $70,000 will be spent replacing Miles' water meters.

Included in the capital spend of $33.6 million on water and sewerage over the four-year council term in a $18 million replacement of Chinchilla's water treatment plan.

Cr Saxelby has ensured the smaller projects will be dedicated as much time and attention as the larger scale investments.

"While it is great to see new infrastructure like Chinchilla's water treatment plant, it is the nuts and bolts work that ensures our residents and businesses have quality water and sewerage services day-in and day-out.”

Landscaping

DESCRIBED as the "shop window of Dalby”, the town's main entry points have undergone a makeover throughout the last few months thanks to council-run initiatives which will continue with more funding from the 2019/20 budget.

"Just over 20,000 annuals have already been planted as part of our main street beautifications in towns across the region,” mayor McVeigh said.

"The highly successful Adopt-a-Street-Tree program will continue over the coming year, with 3500 trees already planted since the initiative started in 2017, and a further $300,000 committed to the project this year.”

Council estimates the Adopt-a-Street-Tree program has generated $2 million worth of work between two local contractors.

Accompanying improvements to the overall appearance to the towns will be the replacement of three new bridges at Charley's Creek in Chinchilla, as well as a highly anticipated off-leash dog park in Chinchilla.

The ten-year masterplan for the Myall Creek will come to a close with 1308m worth of footpaths installed from Jacko Cavanagh Bridge to Winifred St and a new pedestrian bridge over the creek at Amos Street.

A tourism masterplan has been introduced in the Bunya Mountains, with a focus on enhancing the bike trails. "These bike trails will further enhance the tourism appeal of the Bunyas,” Councillor Carolyn Tillman said. A total of $25.91 million has already been spent on these projects, with council dedicating a further $7.6 million.

Facilities

COUNCIL owned assets including the saleyards, cinemas, and pools will experience major upgrades thanks to the millions allocated in the 2019/2020 budget.

About $941,000 has been allocated to pool upgrades and maintenance at the swimming centres in Jandowae and Tara, alongside upgrades to bathroom facilities in Dalby.

According to councillor Ray Brown, attendance numbers at the centres have soared since council contractor Swim Fit took over, with total attendance numbers increasing by 71 per cent between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons.

"It's not only the regular pool visits that are growing, key events such as our community pool parties in November attracted nearly 1000 people and were hugely popular,” he said.

"People that may not have seen our pool facilities for some time were able to come along and have a look around while enjoying free activities.”

Dalby Saleyards have been allocated $70,000 to replace the selling, holding and supporting pens as well as the double decker ramp.

Cr Brown said despite challenges with environmental factors, cattle sales are remaining consistent.

"Our 2018-19 throughput increased by more than 20 per cent over cattle sales the previous year,” he said.

"The saleyards have successfully passed audit requirements to maintain EU and National Saleyards Quality Assurance Accreditation.”

Council will also replace the audio systems in Dalby and Chinchilla Cinemas.

For the future

INVESTING in futuristic gadgets could make the Western Downs a hub for drone technology in Queensland.

About $20,000 has been allocated to explore the feasibility of building a Drone Centre of Excellence, with councillor Donna Ashurst telling the Dalby Herald the centre's development was advancing faster than anticipated.

"Our second drone forum held last year highlights the keen interest in drones as problem solvers in many of our region's target markets including agriculture, energy, transport and logistics,” she said.

"The Drone Centre of Excellence may incorporate training, racing infrastructure, education and research opportunities.”

Developing international relationships is another goal council are vying for, with the Western Downs council to make connections with another city as part of a "sister city” program.

Following the success of the delegates from Texas' visit, council is investing in developing more relationships with councils on an international level.

"This means that we could host international delegates from our sister city, fostering not only friendship but a greater understanding of another culture,” Cr Ashurst said.

Council estimates that $46,000 will be spent in total on the drone program.

Footpaths and bridges

DEMAND for more footpaths and repairs to local streets has been heard by the council, who allocated a portion of $39.3 million to bridges and footpaths.

Councillor Greg Olm said the new round of funding would allow council to take action according to the requests received.

"We consider these requests and make our decisions based on what delivers the best outcome for our communities,” Cr Olm said.

Upgrades to local streets and footpaths will benefit a wider part of the population over the short and long-term.

"In Jandowae, we will be upgrading three streets to a bitumen standard this year,” Councillor Olm said.

"The completion of 23 bitumen dust suppression seal projects on the gravel road network over the last four years has had an extremely positive benefit to our farmers, who previously had to live with huge amounts of dust every time a vehicle passed by.”

Throughout the four-year term of this council, the footpath network will have increased by 16km to 110kms worth of footpaths, with an additional three kilometres to come.

Upgrades to a number of bridges have also been included in the budget allocation.

Employment

UNEMPLOYMENT in the Western Downs increased to 6.9 per cent this year. But the council is working to fix that.

Investments in employment ensures the younger population stays in the region and affirms a future for our growing children.

The council will be allocating a portion of the budget for 30 new council trainees following the success of the last round of trainees to make their way through the council.

Councillor Ian Rasmussen said the council wished to continue to prioritise employment of Dalby's youth.

"We already know that the Western Downs is a brilliant place to live and work and council want to do as much as we can to support new traineeships, programs and events that deliver that great quality of life here in our region,” he said.

"We particularly like supporting young people from our region through apprenticeships, traineeships and bursary programs that set them on their professional pathways.

"Our trainees have done very well and been recognised at both a regional and state level and we're very proud of that.

"In 2018-19, we employed our first trainees with disabilities, who are now part of the council team and are doing well, and we will continue with this excellent program into the future.”

Community attractions

IF YOU find yourself hearing a choir of loud singing coming from your local watering hole, do not be alarmed.

You may have just come across the newest community attraction.

The new pub choir initiative, run by Western Downs Regional Council in collaboration with the Queensland Music Festival, combines two activities we like to think we're good at, but probably should do less of - drinking and singing.

The initiative comes as a part of the council's plan to enhance artistic and cultural life in the region, with $136,000 of the council's 2019/20 budget allocated to the "exciting new activities”.

Councillor Kaye Maguire said the inspiration behind the pub choir was to create an activity that involved as many people as possible.

"The driver behind pub choirs is that everybody can sing, so come and join a large group at your pub, grab a beer and learn a song in three-part harmony in just 90 minutes, perform it twice and then share the YouTube video with your friends,” Cr Maguire said.

"Feedback from very successful events in other towns and cities are that it's rowdy but wholesome and heaps of fun.

Along with the pub choir are plans to hold art up-skilling workshops throughout the region. "These workshops will be delivered by highly experienced and skilled professionals across several art genres, in partnership with the Regional Arts Service network.”

Events and festivals

THE success of Big Skies has inspired the council to host more cultural events and festivals to draw in visitors from right across Queensland.

And 2019 has been described as the "Year of Festivals” following the success of Chinchilla Melon Fest and Big Skies, with the Tara Festival of Culture and Camel Races, and Dalby's Delicious and DeLIGHTful to follow.

Plans to hold more festivals and investments in arts and culture have dominated the council's 2019-20 budget.

According to councillor Kaye Maguire, $25,000 alone has been pledged to display more art in the region's public spaces.

"Earlier this year we trialled a place-making project in Tara, which led to the commission of a giant landscape painting on the site of the former Foodworks business, which is due to be completed in the next couple of months,” Cr Maguire said.

"Large public artworks invite conversation rather than just a passing observation.

"These social interactions help for the essence of small towns as well as build town pride.”

An inaugural writers' festival is also in the works, which Cr Maguire hopes will boost the morale of locals.

"Particularly in our smaller communities, a good night out does wonders to boost morale in difficult times, such as during the drought, and it's another example of an event for visitors to attend if they're spending some time out here or even just passing through,” she said.

The council's investment in art and festivals comes with its promise to invest in liveability.

What you get

FOR every $100 of revenue, ratepayers will receive substantial amount in returns in the form of facilities, events and services - and general improvements to the region.

$40.87 for every $100 will be spent on roads and bridges, forming the bulk of the funding for the budget.

Utilities, water and sewerage will take up $16.20 coming in second behind roads, and $6.20 will be spent on waste collection and management.

Footpaths will take $1.02 as council looks to expand the network.

This comes after increasing demand from the public for a more expansive footpath network, according to Councillor Greg Olm.

$0.84 will go towards storm water drainage, along with $1.44 for planning, building and plumbing services.

$0.84 will also be going towards economic development in the region, including the creation of the sister city program and the Drone Centre of Excellence.

Disaster management will also receive a boost, taking $0.58 of every $100.

$0.62 will go towards maintenance of cemeteries.

Receiving the lowest sum is street light maintenance and improvement, receiving only $0.52 from every $100 cut.

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