Financial questions continue but Julia stands firm


Howard Salkow

Senior Journalist

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Sylvia Healy, President of the Douglas Shire Ratepayers Association, believes the discussion around rate rises should include all the other utility rates imposed by Council and not just general rates. Image supplied

With only a few days remaining to Saturday’s Local Government election, the debate regarding the shire’s financial position remains a key issue, with rates dominating the discussion.

And over the past few weeks, data has been produced, some of which has been endorsed – for example, by the Douglas Shire Ratepayers’ Association (DSRA) – while much of it has been opposed in other circles.

In challenging statements by Mayor Julia Leu – “Council has never been in better financial shape which is fortunate given the uncertain times we are facing” – Gerry Ireland, Economic Development & Tourism Advocate, for one, has produced the following to counter these claims:

  • Douglas Shire rates increased by +25.1% from 2014 to 2019;
  • CPI increased by +8.1% in the same period; an extra +$5.9 million that ratepayers were “gouged”;
  • Despite these unexplained annual excessive increases, DSC was unable to achieve an Operational Surplus in any year from 2014-2019;
  • After six years, cumulative operational losses are -$11.4 million; and
  • Rate increases in the current 2019/2020 year are budgeted at +3%.

And in her response, DSRA president Sylvia Healy said the analysis that Mr Ireland has presented in relation to rates appears to be factually correct and derived from Council financial reports.

“I have only heard Mayor Julia Leu make reference to ‘General Rates’. We don’t believe this is telling the full story. Water rates, and all the other utility rates imposed by Council, should be included in any analysis of rates paid.

“If there are those who believe the figures presented in Mr Ireland’s analysis are factually incorrect, then why are the figures (presented by him) not being challenged?

“All we hear are very broad statements like ‘lowest general rate rise in living history’, but very little, if any detail, given to show the true complete picture, i.e. what about rate increases in utilities such as water?”

Ms Healy questions total rate rises since de-amalgamation.

“However, there are, in our view, two parts to the rate debate. Total rates revenue is one, and is dominating the discussion; but it is also the General Rate Category system that we believe to be inequitable, unfair and in need of change. 

“This will be one of the first orders of business for the new Council and the DSRA will be actively lobbying to have what we believe to be an unfair rate category system reviewed,” she says.

Councillor David Carey, who will not be seeking re-election, joined the debate via a social media questioning those who either don’t understand or won’t acknowledge the Council’s enviable financial position.

In quoting from a copy of the DSC audited balance sheet as at 30 June 2014, and a copy of the DSC audited balance sheet as at 30 June 2019, he says in comparing the numbers in the two documents, the following irrefutable facts are obvious:

  • Cash and investments were $29 million at 30/6/19 up from $18 million at 30/6/14: an increase of $11 million;
  • Property and equipment was $377 million at 30/6/19 up from $310 million at 30/6/14: an increase of $67 million;
  • Long-term liabilities were $5 million at 30/6/19 down from $9 million at 30/6/14: a decrease of $4 million; and
  • Nett community assets (community equity) was $398 million at 30/6/19 up from $321 million at 30/6/14: an increase of $77 million.

Carey said: “Michael Kerr and some of his supporters either can’t read a balance sheet or are deliberately fabricating the financial position of the DSC. Which is it?

“Either way, do we want a person as our community leader who doesn’t understand, or won’t acknowledge, the Council’s enviable financial position?

“One who listens to people who deliberately portray the Council as financially mismanaged when it clearly has been absolutely well managed in the six years since de-amalgamation.”

In a social media posted last week Julia Leu responded to the latest Douglas Shire Ratepayers Association messaging around Council rates calling it "dangerous and misleading".

In her messaging and when she announced she would be seeking re-election, Mayor Leu said: “We are in an excellent position right now. Our financial sustainability plan is on track; and we’ve had a number of wins on the back of hard work: securing the future of the Mossman Mill; the aged care facility, which we’ve done everything to ensure it goes ahead; and the re-development of the Marina. We are expecting a fresh Development Application from Crystalbrook Collection in the first quarter.”

And she has also reminded voters of what was presented in the 2019/20 budget.

Julia Leu said she was proud that the 1.8 per cent rate increase was “the lowest for as long as I can remember”.

She added she was equally delighted to report that “we aim to report an operating surplus of $179,332 this time next year”.

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