(By Cr Mark Edwards)
This month, the next annual budget for Council's 2017/18 financial year is scheduled to be adopted.
It is an important document that determines where and how Council income is spent across the city in the next financial year.
Council income is mainly comprised of rates, fees and charges, waste and water business and grants from State and Federal levels of government.
What most people don’t realise is that the portion of income raised from rate charges doesn’t cover the cost of keeping the Council operating.
Rates are actually less than 40% of Council income sources. It is a combination of all income streams that is needed to keep Council operating, and the money required to build infrastructure and provide extra services comes from a small amount of money raised.
Sometimes Council needs to spend more money than it raises and that creates a deficit for that year.
My main focus in the new budget is to continue the island road sealing program, provide footpath extensions and continue to work to address the parking issues that plague many areas of the city.
Whilst the budget deliberations have now been completed, the final decision will not be made until the Special Budget meeting in June.
In saying that I am pleased to say that during the numerous Budget workshops Councillors have agreed to focus on our Redlands islands over the coming six months and to see what actions we can take to address not only the issues we currently face, but also challenges ahead as the population continues to increase.
One of those challenges is to create an economic base on the islands that creates employment over and above the tourism opportunities.
Every island job created not only supports spending on the islands but also eliminates the need for that person to travel to the mainland each day.
Tourism opportunities are important; but we shouldn’t box ourselves into thinking that is all we need.
For example, Russell Island has 40 blocks of land zoned for industrial use that form an industrial park.
Most people are unaware of this (I own one of those blocks so I declare a conflict of interest from the start)
However, in the past four decades not one industrial building has been constructed. That raises the question of why?
What are the stumbling blocks that prevent island commercial and industrial development, and how can Council assist to encourage the development of an area that would generate goods and service industries on the island?
Development on industrial blocks would generate jobs for locals and the same applies for Macleay Island where there is an absence of suitably-zoned industrial land.
When I look at our commercial zoned land, other problems arise.
The blocks of land are usually too small to provide the customer onsite parking, plus the septic trenching required and then the need to build a viable building on the residual land.
That is why we start to see houses being built on land that should be used for shops, office space and service providers.
Again the questions arise for me, what actions or incentives can Council provide to assist building our commercial land?
Of course these are just questions that scratch the challenges before us.
Larger potential problems need to be assessed and strategies developed to deal with them.
The continued reliance on septic systems cannot continue with the population growth and density of housing.
At some point we will need to transition away from septic towards a more reliable wastewater management system.
These are just a few of questions that our Councillors are eager to work through as part of a wider discussion on how Council can plan for and deal with these challenges.
To emphasis the commitment for planning and delivery, CSIRO have met with Council and commenced initial discussions into how we can engage the scientific expertise of Australia’s premier scientific research organisation to assist us develop a future blueprint for all our islands and deliver on the ground solutions.
The scope of CSIRO’s involvement has not been fully crystallised at the moment, however, I anticipate that the outcome will involve looking at the holistic needs of the islands’ community for at least the next 10 years and how technology can benefit all of us.
It may be health services, education, waste transfer management, or other needs.
Having Councillors and an organisation such as CSIRO working together to plan the best future for the islands is a great opportunity.
Although we have had just the initial discussions, and much more work needs to be done to determine the next steps, I believe it is important for residents to know that Council is committed to forward planning for the islands and as matters develop I will keep the community aware of them.