‘Focused, responsible budget’ for Tamworth Regional Council

PRUDENT AND PLAIN: Tamworth councillors – back from left, Phil Betts, Mark Rodda, Helen Tickle, Juanita Wilson, Tim Coates and James Treloar, with front, deputy mayor Russell Webb, mayor Col Murray and Warren Woodley – focused on trying to do as much as they can with less.

PRUDENT AND PLAIN: Tamworth councillors – back from left, Phil Betts, Mark Rodda, Helen Tickle, Juanita Wilson, Tim Coates and James Treloar, with front, deputy mayor Russell Webb, mayor Col Murray and Warren Woodley – focused on trying to do as much as they can with less.

GENERAL manager Paul Bennett has described it as a focused and responsible budget – one that reflects a philosophy for long-term sustainability and levels of council service – but Tamworth Regional Council residents and ratepayers now have the chance to have their say on it.

The council is taking the draft of the budget on a road trip from today so it can give residents a face-to-face explanation of what they’re going to do, how they’re going to pay for it, where they’re spending their money, and how much they’ve predicted they’ll get to do what they plan to do.

The draft shows the council has framed a budget of about $180 million; it’s not the biggest budget the council has handled over the past 10 years by any means.

It’s nowhere near as big-spending as some of the “sexy” budgets with glamour big-ticket items like AELEC, the Sports Dome, the $80 million Westdale sewage treatment plant and reuse farm or the Capitol Theatre days we’ve seen in the past.

Mayor Col Murray says they’ve got to focus on maintaining what’s already here now, and while they’d like to do more, they’re hampered.

And while state and federal governments seem to be talking mainly of funding things only of economic benefit, this local government body “absolutely” has to maintain its social infrastructure, he says.

The budget is all part of the Keychange 2023 annual operational plan document of some 250 pages.

It is the draft of the planned operations the council has set down for the next year, including forecast income, revenues and key budget results.

It also contains the full list of fees and charges the council plans to levy.

The council says it will spend about $38.3 million on what it calls its “accessible region” theme, which basically is the old roads, bridges and transport activities; about $26 million on community services; just over $7 million on economic development activities, which include tourism and country music festival events; and the lion’s share of nearly $55 million on the big-ticket, future fund council operations, like environmental, water, wastewater, and human services operations.

The council expects to see about $90 million in income in its general fund, although it forecasts another $17.2 million from water income and nearly $20 million from sewerage operations – although, with its planned spending in the two infrastructure areas, it expects to finish with a surplus operating result of less than a million in water and just on $1.4 million in sewerage.

It is forecasting a deficit result in its general rates operations, with staff costs at about $39 million of the total operational expenses, which are likely to be more than $95 million.

Residential rates from the Tamworth city area, basically the former council boundaries, will yield nearly $17 million of the $31.4 million in general rates income, with nearly $5.4 million of the total $5.7 million in business rates income derived from the Tamworth city area. Farm rates will yield a total $5.3 million.

The council has set its general rates increase at the cap of 2.3 per cent on the previous year, although that’s on the back of the 17 per cent rate rise it had approved by the minister last year.

It wants to increase its water, sewerage and trade waste service charges, and waste or garbage management charges, by 2.6 per cent, as well as a 2.6 per cent price increase on the water we use.

A report to the latest council meeting showed the council had investment accounts with five financial institutions worth $123 million at the end of March.

The 2014/2015 plan is 250 pages long, but the council has also produced a 20-page pocket guide and will detail the main components of the plan at its information sessions. 

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