Mayor's Budget Message

Delivered by Cr Bob Manning, Mayor Cairns, on 26 June 2017

I am pleased today to present Cairns Regional Council’s Budget for 2017-18 – the second Budget for this term of Council and one that again reflects what can be delivered to the community when financial stability prevails.

Our city is in an increasingly strong economic position benefiting from a solid resurgence in the tourism sector and growth in our other key industries including education, marine, aviation, agriculture and construction.

We are already seeing private property development on the rise, with three new tower hotel developments underway, and, for the first time in many years, there are three construction cranes visible on the Cairns skyline, with three more expected in the next couple of months.

This financial year has also seen Council’s biggest intake of development applications since the 2006 year (pre-GFC), indicating that investors are positioning their businesses to capitalise on future opportunities presented by the local economy.

This $294 million Budget is the fifth consecutive balanced Budget to be delivered by this Council, accompanied again by a low increase in general rates – very much a product of a well-structured and disciplined fiscal plan that has provided financial predictability for a sustained period.

A continued focus and determination by Council on cost-effectiveness and efficiency will again result in a surplus in our operating position in the order of $7.3 million for the 2016-17 year, bringing the total operating surplus over the past four budget cycles to $29.3 million.

Council is committed to managing the organisation under a business model that continuously seeks to identify further operating efficiencies and act on opportunities to cut red tape to ensure that we are maximising every dollar we manage for the betterment of the whole community.

This Council’s sound financial position over the past five years has allowed us to invest heavily in community infrastructure and extensive improvements to the CBD which has boosted business confidence and sparked renewed international investment interest.

We are now seeing that interest translated into bricks and mortar, and importantly, jobs that positively contribute to our overall economy.

Latest figures show that the Cairns statistical area achieved jobs growth of 5,600 employed persons, or 5.2% over the past year (to May 2017) – a fantastic result given that the Cairns area had the largest percentage point decrease in unemployment rate of all 19 statistical areas in Queensland.

It was also pleasing to see reports late last week that indicate unemployment has fallen to 6.6%, the lowest since 2009.

Significant activity in the commercial construction sector and the flow-on to the residential construction sector, will provide future rates revenue for Council which means more funds can be re-invested into infrastructure and services for our community and this will also provide downwards pressure on future rating levels.

This Budget has been tailored to not only deliver on core Council services and infrastructure but also provides for around $70 million of new community projects that will advance Cairns’ reputation as one of the most liveable cities in Australia.

We know that liveability is a key influencing factor in where people now choose to live and work – in this age of technology, any business can be run from anywhere, so young entrepreneurs are seeking out cities that can offer the lifestyle they desire.

These community projects span across all areas of our lifestyle – from new cultural and art venues to improved sporting facilities, upgraded recreational areas, new cycling and walking trails, and enhanced parks and playgrounds.

The projects also respond to the “Our Cairns” survey which clearly told us that our residents place a very high value on our natural assets and being able to enjoy our environment through recreational activities.

The community projects are part of this year’s $169 million Capital Works program which is a significant contributor to the city’s economy and business and consumer confidence.

It must be noted that the State Government has assisted us to fast forward some of these projects through funding from the “red-tape cutting” Works for Queensland program and other grants.

A centrepiece of this year’s capital works program is the completion of Council’s hallmark project, the new Cairns Performing Arts Centre, with $43.7 million allocated.

When completed in mid-2018, the CPAC, combined with the Munro Martin Parklands venue, will take our city’s cultural and entertainment venues to a new level, evidenced by the recent announcement of the Royal Ballet’s performance to be staged at the Parklands in July.

Strengthening our position as the Arts and Cultural Capital of Northern Australia, this Budget provides funding to commence the development of the new Gallery Precinct in the CBD encompassing the existing Regional Gallery, the historical Courthouse, and the former Mulgrave Shire building on the Esplanade. Some funding has been set aside in this Budget to refurbish the Courthouse to enable the space to be activated in the short-term as we develop longer-term visionary plans for the new Gallery Precinct.

The Budget also provides $3.5 million to finalise a new CBD Master Plan and commence its implementation. The plan is focussed on enhancing the city centre and waterfront, with the initial focus to be on Florence Street fronting the Parklands, CPAC and the new Aquarium – an area in which new development has been concentrated.

In addition, $3 million has been allocated to refurbishing the Cairns Esplanade including the replacement of components of the promenade boardwalk.

We will continue to advance the development of major new sporting precincts at Walker Road and Petersen Park, and improve other sporting facilities with $5.7 million allocated for this year.

In addition, Council will spend $3.8 million on cycleways and pathways including $2.6 million to commence the much anticipated and innovative Northern Beaches Leisure Trail, starting with the section from Palm Cove to Trinity Beach.

$1 million has been set aside to develop and improve walking trails including upgrading the very popular Red Arrow and Ivan Evans trails and completing the new Yellow Arrow Trail.

Funding of $4.9 million has been earmarked to improve parks and playgrounds including $1.2 million for the development of the new adventure playground at Centenary Lakes. A further $16 million will be spent on the maintenance of these assets.

$1.8 million will be spent to continue improvements to the Yorkeys Knob foreshore, and $550,000 for Stage 1 of the Holloways Beach foreshore improvement plan and lighting at Palm Cove.

$698,000 has been allocated for significant upgrades of facilities at Babinda Boulders, and $225,000 will be spent progressing the Lake Placid master plan.

Part of being a liveable city is having a connected community, so Council will spend $1 million over the next five years to provide free community Wi-Fi to enable our residents to connect while they are enjoying parks, leisure areas and sporting grounds.

The “Our Cairns” survey also told us that the community wants a safer city – to that end, Council will spend $2 million this year to upgrade and expand CCTV technology and its network, and $2.5 million on providing security services.

The survey also identified footpaths and enhanced street lighting as high priorities, so this Budget also provides for $2.5 million for new footpaths and renewals, and $1.75 million for street lighting improvements.

Parking in the city centre will also be improved, with $5.5 million set aside to redevelop the Lake Street carpark, and $470,000 to create additional on-street parking in the CBD.

To ensure our road networks are maintained and improved, $23 million has been allocated for roads and bridges, with an additional $3 million set aside for new kerb and channel works, and $5.6 million for various drainage and flood mitigation works.

The city’s liveability also relies upon having a secure water supply – one that will be able to cater to an expanded urban population.

An important part of Council’s Water Security Strategy is to ensure we are making the best use from the resource and the storage facilities we currently have.

Council is committed to reducing wastage at every point of delivery so today I can announce a $20 million commitment over the next five years to roll out smart water meters across the city that will position Cairns as a national leader in this new technology.

The installation program is among the first of its kind in Australia and will result in a comprehensive smart water network.

The smart devices will allow individuals to access real-time water use data to better manage how they are using water and to instantly detect leaks on their property.

Council is also investing about $600,000 in water-saving programs within the community which will involve working with the region’s largest water users to identify ways to reduce consumption.

A purpose-built, state-of-the-art water laboratory will also be built over the next two years at an estimated cost of $4.5 million.

The new building will replace the ageing laboratory facility in McNamara Street and will improve Council’s capabilities to efficiently monitor and test water quality to meet future demand.

In total this year, Council will spend $12.2 million on upgrading and improving our water network and associated infrastructure.

$25.6 million will be invested in critical infrastructure related to our wastewater and waste services, with more than $13 million to be spent on major new sewerage infrastructure and upgrades of existing wastewater treatment networks to relieve pressure on the existing network and to cater for future demand.

In striking the rate in the dollar for 2017-18, Council reviewed its rating band system, resulting in a more simplified system that sees almost 99% of all properties now in the Residential A category.

For the past three budgets, Council has been in a position to set a 1.5% increase in general rates, but this can’t be sustained indefinitely without starting to affect the extent of works and services Council can deliver to the community.

This year, a rise of 1.75% will be applied to all residential categories, which is still below CPI. In fact, we are forecasting to keep rate increase at or below CPI for the next 10 years.

Because no new valuations will be issued by the State this year, it means that 99.6% of all residential ratepayers will pay only the additional 1.75% on their general rates.

A 1.75% increase will also be levied on sewerage and cleansing charges and the water access fee, with residential water usage to rise by just 2 cents a kilolitre.

It is important to note that Cairns ratepayers continue to pay less for their services than others throughout the state, while receiving high levels of service and capital projects.

Council knows this because of the annual benchmarking exercise we do, which compares the differing rates and charges applied in comparable other local government areas, and average water usage.

The most recent benchmarking shows that for a residential median valuation assessment, Cairns is the lowest of the 12 Councils measured.

A new benchmarking exercise will be completed in the next few weeks and we expect to continue to be in the lower end of that scale.

The same can be said in regards to debt per capita which also sees Cairns as the second lowest of 15 Councils throughout the State.

Council’s long-term goal is to remain in the lowest quartile in both these metrics.

This year’s Budget serves to stimulate our economy through a number of measures including:

  • $367 million will be spent in the community through materials and services associated with delivering the Capital Works program; and on maintenance, renewals and other services delivered to the community;
  • $3 million will be sourced to Tourism Tropical North Queensland, to drive economic activity by marketing the region as a premier tourist destination;
  • $1.4 million will go towards supporting and developing major sporting and significant cultural events that will deliver economic benefits to the region including the Cairns Ironman, the 2017 Mountain Bike World Championships, the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, the Targa Tropics event, the AFL Premiership match, and the NRL  Cowboys – South Sydney game;
  • $422,000 will be provided for economic development and to support business and industry development; and,

  • $1.6 million in grants will be distributed to community organisations.

In closing, Council has every reason to be proud of the way it delivers to this community. We have delivered some $650 million in infrastructure projects over the past five years and this has only been possible because of the measured and disciplined approach in managing Council’s finances and its affairs.

Council’s investment in community infrastructure and its sound financial position have been major contributors in boosting business confidence and have contributed to the renewed international investment interest we are experiencing in the Cairns region.

Council has also sent a clear message that we are very much open for business – business that will achieve value for Cairns but not undermine who we are as a city – our character and, of course, our unique natural environment.

Today, we also will adopt our new Corporate Plan which very much reflects the values and aspirations that the community expressed through the “Our Cairns” survey.

The plan’s five strategic themes are:

  1. Economy
  2. Natural Assets
  3. Liveability
  4. Community and Culture, and
  5. Serving the Community.

These will guide Council in enabling our city to reach its full potential as a place that values our unique lifestyle and our iconic natural assets, and supports a sense of community and future economic prosperity.

Cairns must continue to adapt and evolve, embrace new technologies and be a place that attracts and keeps talented young people and entrepreneurs.

Council is currently developing its Smart City Strategy to ensure that our city and region keeps pace with technology that can make delivering services more efficient and interactive, and better our residents’ lives.

All in all, Cairns is on an upward trajectory – we have come a long way in just over five years and we are seeing the fruits of our labour translated into real investment and job creation.

Today’s Budget continues to build on the positive changes implemented over the past four budget cycles, it also provides for a sustainable local government that is well positioned to prosper from the opportunities before us.

I would like to thank and commend my fellow Councillors for their time and input in preparing the Budget and acknowledge the efforts of Council management and staff throughout the budget process and in preparing the reports to be considered today.

Things don’t “just happen” – they happen because someone makes them happen and in that regard, I want to thank management and staff throughout the organisation for having a strong focus on delivering Council’s 2016-17 Budget and all their efforts in implementing its contents and making it happen.

In closing, I would also like to state how important it is for this Council to work as a team, be unified in our purpose and determined in our commitment to delivering to this community.

It is the community that Council is elected to serve. There can be no personal agendas, set by anyone or by any organisation, which can put this at risk.

I commend the 2017-18 Cairns Regional Council Budget to you for its adoption.

Last updated: 26 June 2017