’No-frills’ budget set for handover at Balonne Shire
BALONNE Shire Council is preparing to deliver a lean budget under mounting pressure from above, ready for budget day on June 25.
Local councils are the only level of government delivering their annual budgets on time this year, despite challenges brought on by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
While mayor Samantha O’Toole has assured there won’t be cuts to services, she said this year’s budget will be quite conservative.
“It is definitely a balancing act between what the community expectation is about service levels and what council can afford to pay; and like most regional councils, our long term viability always gets a red flag by the department of local government, so we are very mindful that our short term decisions have a big impact,” she said.
“Currently we are recovering from years of drought and the COVID-19 impact on our business community, and we don’t want to add to the burden by having an extravagant budget.
“So we have been very conservative with our budget, keeping expenditure to an operational level where we believe the community expectation will be met, but not having a lot of frills.”
As for the major projects Balonne Shire Council is undertaking this year, including their renewed tourism campaign, the money for those will be coming from outside of the shire itself.
External funding such as state and federal government grants will cover most extra items, and it also means the brand new budget will be up for review shortly after council delivers it next week.
Cr O’Toole said new funding is coming in early July, which means council will be looking at the books again almost immediately after handing down the budget.
“We have been very lucky to receive about $8 million from external funding sources, and the challenge for us is government regulations …
“We have funding agreements in place for things like our library renovation ($5 million) and the Country Universities project ($700,000) which can’t actually be included in the budget because we won’t have a signed agreement in place before the end of this financial year.
“To add it afterwards will mean a fairly major budget review in July or August to incorporate all the additional funding.
“We are setting down a budget with the figures we have, knowing it is going to change in the very near future, so it has been a really challenging time.”
Other projects which won’t make it to the initial budget include $1.1 million from the state government for infrastructure and roads; it too will come under review in a matter of months.
Cr O’Toole confirmed council is negotiating with the state authorities to get flood-damaged roads around the shire fixed, but doesn’t expect an agreement to be reached until July.