Thursday 24 July 2008

The advert they didn't want you to see

If one thing you want when you elect politicians, it's the hope and faith elected officials can manage our money and services in the most efficient and economical way possible. Simple.

You don't give them a mandate to spend what they want, and think that we can achieve every capital expense in 12 months. Council's should act as our board of governors, with a visionary attitude, respect for limitations, with long-term goals.

The new Council's first budget, will not rest well with the public of the greater Cairns region.

In June, the fees and charges for the next year were adopted at Council's Finance and Administration meeting. However, it's the new general rate, announced yesterday, that will hurt the most.

Only Councillor Robert Pyne, a vocal and strong opponent of the 2008/09 budget's intention to increase the general rate, voted against the rate increase. His opposition was to the decry of some fellow colleagues. Even Cr Linda Cooper, often a supporter of Pyne's previous abstentions in the chamber, was miffed why he didn't fall in line and publicly back the new rate rise.

Like many Councillors, Cooper believes that all those party to the discussions and budget workshops, should back the final agreed budget. "Why didn't you make your concerns known during the debates?," Cooper has said to Pyne.

"Well, I did, but I simply didn't get listen to nor supported," Robert Pyne said.

Pyne has tried to seek other sources of revenue to fund urgent needs. As recently as last month, he proposed a report prepared on surplus Council land that could be sold, however he did not receive the support.

Pyne has also been critical that many community projects in his Division 3, would not be addressed in this budget, despite putting forward many proposals since being elected.

During yesterday's budget presentation, Mayor Schier angrily disputed that the rise wasn't as many had reported. "It wasn't double digits as quoted in some of the local media," she said. This was a direct swipe at the Cairns Post, who weeks ago revealed that the rise would be over 10%. This was subsequently confirmed by Council CEO Noel Briggs.

However yesterday the Mayor painted the rate increase at 'around 7.5%'. "It's hardly the cost of an extra loaf of bread a week," said Mayor Val Schier.

An analysis will show that some ratepayers could be incurring a rate rise as much as 15%, when the early payment discount is removed, and the increase in water rates is added along with the new general rate. The minimum rise is expected to be around $270.

"After the significant increase in the weekly family food and fuel bill, this will be yet another difficult cost to accommodate," Robert Pyne says.

The timing of this increase couldn't be worse for a new Mayor trying to build bridges from the former Council's reputation for not communicating with it's constituents.

Businessman Sean Webb last month launched his Stop the Rot petition, to show the Council that ratepayers are angry at this rate rise. He targeted Finance committee chair, Cr Alan Blake and Mayor Schier. "We need to stand up and voice our disappointment together," he said.

The Council's spin machine was in overload yesterday as the new Mayor was delivering her first budget speech to the Chamber.

Cairns Regional Council had planned to run a glossy colour advertising campaign across the region's print media to counter the growing negative feeling in the community. We've learn't this was pulled at the last minute late yesterday afternoon. However, CairnsBlog is pleased to bring you a censored copy of the proposed advert, that the Council's PR spin doctors didn't want you to see.

Cr Pyne sees that there is a very real perception, in the mind of the public that the recent Councillor's salary increase is connected with the rate rise. "These are of course two separate issues, however the public are happy when they see a substantial increase in remuneration, followed hot on the heels of a large rate increase," he said.

There is also little logic to remove the early payment discount scheme. This was a strong incentive to pay early or on time. The 'early bird' scheme, used widely in many organisations, encourages on-time payment of accounts and rewards those that attend to their bill, especially low-income earners. This move will be another PR disaster for this Council. Such early payment systems also encourage and facilitate a good cash flow at Rate time.

At yesterday's Council meeting, the only other Councillor besides Pyne's lone voice against the rise, was Cr Juila Leu, who represents the northern Division 10. Leu, who has been praised for her representation of the unique interests of the former Douglas Shire, said the budget represented good corporate governance, however acknowledges how the increase will affect ratepayers.

Every other Councillor either spoke strongly in favour, or was silent in endorsement. It's surprising that the youngest Councillor, Kirsten Lesina wasn't more vocal in representing the interests of younger Cairns ratepayers, a strength she could bring to the Council table in her representation and decision-making. Many young home owners, of which Lesina could feel a strong affinity towards, will find the demands of a large rate rise, an additional burden to their budget.

Pyne's defiant vote against the rate grab is captured by the Post on today's cover.

Agree or disagree with Pyne's vote of no confidence in the budget's rate rise, however I believe he will gain many more supporters who'll understand his willingness to represent their views, no matter what the political consequences.

Imagine if every politician did this?


Anonymous said...

I have kept my rate notices over the decades which confirm we have experienced jumps of 10% in the rate levy, between two years. However, I am very disappointed that the Council has abolished the early discount scheme. I'm also glad the Council have abandoned the "only the price of a loaf of bread" advertisement. When looking at how pensioners are struggling to buy food today, this type of claim is downright insensitive and "in your face". Our Councillors can easily afford to wine and dine and pay their bills, and scoff off rate rises as "trivial", but a significant proportion of people here have precious little left over to buy food.
Deep economic changes are taking place in our community with the standard of living dropping for many people. Anxiety and fear is taking root amongst the less well off.

Anonymous said...

All the "whingers" about rises in rates and charges, including the three ex-mayors, have been dishonest about the reality of regional government.

Rob Pyne is congratulating himself for wanting to sell-off council assets, and yet has provided no evidence that this would make any appreciable difference to the ratepayer. There is also no groundswell of support for selling off council lands into a depressed and declining market. Even Tom Pyne wouldn't support this plan by his son.

Even more telling - you hear no one proposing to cut back services; road repair, large grants to neighbourhood sporting groups, large council payroll, and all other services seem to be "off the table" for cutting. And yet labor unions are demanding huge percentage increases in pay, interest on the previous council's debt continues to increase, and with stalled development looming this special revenue will clearly decline. Rob Pyne himself moaned that all the additional services he wanted for his councillors weren't funded. If he was legitimate, he would have asked his division residents what services could be cut back in order to stabalise rates.

Council isn't a profit-making entity - if they've asked for too much this year, it will even out next. But any criticism of council's decisions without outlining alternatives that can be supported by the community is just political troublemaking.

Anonymous said...

What you ignore here Beaches Ratepayer is that if the Council sells surplus land then it sells it to a private entity which then pays rates back to the Council so boosting revenue. It is not a simple equation of a zero sum asset sale.