ABOUT $17 million each for roads and land acquisition are at the centre of Mitchell Shire Council’s 2022-23 draft budget.

While councillors voted unanimously to adopt the document last week, some expressed concerns about asset renewal.

The $162.18 million budget carries an underlying deficit of $3.19 million, largely driven by increased asset and service-delivery costs.

Councillors acknowledged the strain population growth had put on the budget, with the shire expected to grow from a current population of about 50,000 to more than 170,000 within 20 years.

Cr Rhonda Sanderson said the shire’s population was tipped to grow by about 6000 in the next year alone and a key focus of the budget was providing for the expanding community.

“We consulted widely with the community. There were a lot of comments seeking improvements to recreation facilities, open space and playgrounds. The upgrade of roads and associated infrastructure was next,” she said.

“Our capital works program is about $75 million including anticipated grants and contributions of about $21.8 million and carry-forwards of about $12.66 million.

“We’ve got nearly $17 million in roads and bridges with nearly $6 million of that grant-funded.”

Cr Sanderson said council had released a four-year capital works program for the first time in an attempt to be more transparent with the public.

Cr David Lowe said the four-year capital works document was ‘a great addition’.

“We can see some of the [items] that we would maybe have liked immediately are under consideration for the not-too-distant future,” he said.

“Whilst we know that can change, it is a great message to say ‘these are the things we’ve got in the pipeline’.”

Mayor Bill Chisholm, a consistent advocate for roads across the shire, said he would support the budget but he wanted to see more money for unsealed gravel roads.

“[I have] a number of reservations, especially with asset management and the renewal of existing assets,” he said.

“One of the chief concerns I’ve got is the amount spent on the gravel roads program. We’ve got over 700 kilometres of gravel roads, and currently we’ve got a figure of $600,000 for renewal and resheeting of gravel roads.

“That’s a real issue for this shire. You only have to have one significant weather event to impact greatly on gravel roads, and they’re affected far more than sealed infrastructure.

“Unless there is more money foreshadowed in next year’s budget, I think I’ll be taking a different tack.”

Cr Fiona Stevens said she was also concerned about asset renewal spending and an increase in carry-forward capital works.

“One of the things we really have to concentrate on is our asset management – our repairs, our upgrades [and] the amount of assets we’re taking on,” she said.

“Council will continue to balance the need of new renewal and upgrade and ensure … funds are directed where needed the most.

“The other thing I’m going to keep an eye on is action on the ground in regards to climate and sustainability. Whether the policies become effective in reality is what I’m looking for – not just talking about it and not just making policies, but actually seeing it come to fruition.

“We must get our carry-forwards reduced. What we’re passing on each year in the budget is becoming unmanageable and impacting greatly on what new projects we’re able to bring into our works.”

Cr Louise Bannister proposed a budget amendment to keep the fee for planning file retrieval at $59 rather than an increase to $70.

Cr Bannister said she believed the current fee was adequate and that with the digitisation of most files, retrieval would become faster and easier in the future.

“I feel that this sort of service provided by council is something we should keep affordable to our residents,” she said.

“The community has had quite a blow in the past couple of years with COVID … and I see this as another unnecessary burden on the community. We should be showing our support by keeping fees the same that we can afford to.”

Cr Bannister’s amendment was passed, with crs Bannister, Chisholm, Lowe, Stevens and Nathan Clark voting in favour and crs Sanderson and Bob Cornish against.

Cr Bannister said she hoped the community found this year’s budget easier to read and understand.

“We do listen. We always hear about roads and … there is approximately $13.5 million [in the capital works program] towards roads,” she said.

“When you think that the capital program is $75 million and some of that is grant contributions, which are going to have very specific intentions, it’s quite a big chunk going towards our roads.

“There is a lot the community wants done and we tried to find a balance that meets everyone’s needs as best we can.

“There is going to be a supporting document in plain English so you can open it up and see straight away how much money council has, and where it’s going to in very easy language. Hopefully everyone can pick it up, read it and understand what’s going on.”

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