'It's a mayor's budget': Tempers boil over as budget adopted
IN THE most heated council meeting of the past 12 months, with the most debate, six of Rockhampton Region's seven councillors voted to adopt the 2018/19 budget yesterday morning.
Division One councillor, Rose Swadling was the sole vote against the budget saying "it's a mayor's budget" and hers was a conscience vote.
She abstained from voting on the revenue statement.
"I'm only one councillor...and even though we workshop it and workshop through those processes, there are things that I consider should have been further up the scale," she said.
"I can see other issues that we should prioritise in the community. This is not about my division, but the community as a whole.
"I've always been a fairly straight player and I'll continue to be, but you have to be true to yourself and I couldn't put my hand over my heart."
Cr Swadling would make no further comment or say which other issues she felt should have higher priority.
Division Three councillor and former deputy mayor, Tony Williams supported the majority of the budget but said he was frustrated by the process.
"We probably need more done at a state level to make some changes to a process where the mayor hands down the budget rather than more of a team effort," he said.
"It's very time consuming and a difficult process going over it line by line and we just didn't get the time this year to go over it in enough detail."
Cr Williams had been lobbying for a feasibility study into offsetting electricity charges with solar energy.
He had put the motion to the table, with unanimous support, but there was still no money in the budget.
"The mayor put $5 million in the budget to look at projects, but I wanted a proper feasibility study and I wasn't able to get that through," he said.
"After 12 months, I'm still trying to get the money...there's $30,000 but to do it properly will need more than that.
"It's something I think could benefit our community, to offset those charges by looking at renewable energy."
Cr Williams says he will keep fighting but it would have been good to have the funds for a proper feasibility study as a line item in this year's budget.
Division Four councillor, Ellen Smith was happy with the overall budget but voted against the sewerage charges, which she does every year.
"The Gracemere rate is much higher than Rockhampton and Mt Morgan and the reason given is because it costs more to run the sewerage system," she said.
"But the engineers have confirmed the system is quite modern so it shouldn't cost any more than the systems in Rocky.
"I object to my ratepayers paying significantly higher than Rockhampton and I want to see it levelled out."
But it was Cr Neil Fisher who was the most outspoken about the need for legislative change.
He said councillors throughout Queensland were feeling further and further marginalised by the process of formulating budgets.
"As the minister goes through the review on how local government operates, he needs to look at the 'mayors budget',"Cr Fisher said.
"It should be a whole of council budget.
"This is where we're seeing turmoil up and down Queensland with councillors throwing out mayor's budgets.
"It needs to b e reviewed as part of the Local Government Act."
Cr Fisher was adamant his criticism was not of the mayor, Margaret Strelow, but an attack on the system.
"She's working within the rules and fiscally I think this is a very sound budget," he said.
"But where it starts to breakdown is the line items that are unknown from the workshop stage to the mayor's preparation.
"We all had areas we felt very strongly about.
"Yesterday was probably the most heated council meeting in 12 months and the most debate we'd had, but we needed to have our say."
Neither the mayor or the deputy mayor were available for comment yesterday.