Mayor's Budget Address

Delivered by Cr Bob Manning, Mayor of Cairns, on 25 June 2018

It gives me great pleasure today to present Cairns Regional Council’s 2018-2019 Budget – the sixth consecutive balanced budget of this Council.

This is the seventh Budget I have handed down on behalf of Council and one that again invests heavily in our city while minimising the cost impact on our residents and our businesses.

I am proud to say that this responsible and financially prudent Budget is the product of a unified and collaborative approach in the interests of the city as a whole.

As a Council, we must make the right investments and deliver the right infrastructure to protect what we love about where we live. At the heart of that work is strong financial management which has been a hallmark of this Council from the outset.

Today’s $301 million Budget maintains Council’s record of low rates rises, low debt and significant expenditure in capital works to deliver critical new infrastructure and to manage and improve our existing assets.

Table showing annual general rate rises of 1.5%-1.7.5% per year over the past four years.Table 1 indicates annual rate rises since this Council was elected by the people of Cairns.

Over the past four years Council has kept increases in general rates to just 1.5%-1.75% per year – a result of fiscal discipline, adopting best practice, and supporting innovation and new thinking.

This is important because we cannot ask residents to pay more unless we are certain we are doing all we can to get best value for the ratepayer dollar.

Disciplined financial management and responsible decision making have also yielded surpluses totalling $21.8 million in operating expenditure over the past four budget cycles, and this has been achieved whilst delivering an annual capital works program ranging from $120 million to a record $178 million as you can see in Table 2.

Council's annual capital works program has ranged from $120 million to a record $178 million over the past 4 years

Our works program has typically been structured to not only provide the “lifestyle” projects that enrich the lives of our residents and make Cairns a region of choice – a place where people want to live, not a place they have to live – but to also meet the need for new or improved core infrastructure, investing more than $61 million in our water network, and $56 million on improving our wastewater facilities over the past 6 years.

The Budget being announced today is again balanced and maintains Council’s enviable position in relation to debt levels and our ability to service that debt, with Cairns still rated as having the second lowest debt per capita among medium to large councils in Queensland.

Debt per capita 2016/17 (Queensland councils with population greater than 50,000).

It’s an exciting time for Cairns and the Local Government Area as we continue on an upward trajectory. Renewed investment and confidence in our city and region is delivering growth and opportunity.

The economic base of our region is broadening and deepening, being led by a tourism industry that continues to mature and grow.

We know that a strong economy is a critical pillar that underpins the quality of life of our community.

And while we are fortunate to live in this part of the world, we need to work together as a region to ensure we secure long-term prosperity.

Recently, Council endorsed a new Economic Development Strategy to focus on what’s important to achieve this goal and an important objective outlined in this document is to build a shared vision which will be critical to ensure we remain focused on delivering the infrastructure, programs and policy that will underpin the long-term future of our city, our region and our community.

This project is now underway, but to be successful it will require the buy-in of key regional stakeholders, all levels of government and the community.

It will require us to collaborate closely and work collectively to identify and build consensus on the key initiatives that will shape the future of Cairns and contribute to an improved quality of life for our community.

Currently the city is abuzz with construction of the three new Crystalbrook tower hotels at full pace. We look forward to the opening of the first of these new tourism assets in November this year which will create more jobs, as will the Nova City project and the expansion of the Cairns Convention Centre when it begins.

Council also has a critical role in job creation, through its significant capital works program which we recognise is a major contributor to the city’s economy and influences business and consumer confidence.

This year, the Budget will stimulate our economy through the expenditure of $374 million 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.

Council has increased its funding from $3 million to $3.4 million to drive economic activity by marketing the region as a premier tourist destination, and we will spend $1.1 million to support and develop major sporting and significant cultural events that deliver economic benefits to the region including the Cairns Adventure Festival and Ironman, Targa Great Barrier Reef, the NRL game, the Para Pan Pacific Championships, Australian Dolphins training camps, and international cycling events Reef to Reef 2018 and 2019.

This year’s $165.7 million Capital Works program features $17.7 million for the new Cairns Performing Arts Centre due for handover in the fourth quarter of this year, will take our city’s cultural and entertainment venues to a new level.

The project had an initial launch budget of $66.5 million. During the construction period, Council’s constant oversight of the project resulted in scope changes of
$3.9 million. These scope changes will greatly add to the functionality of the building and its ability to serve this community for many decades.

We recognise the State Government’s contribution of $15 million and the Federal Government’s contribution of $10 million towards this important project.

Furthering our goal of being the Arts and Cultural Capital of Northern Australia, the Budget also 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.

This project is dependent on State and Federal Government financial assistance – in equal shares with Council. Applications are before the two senior levels of Government at this time.

$2.1 million has been allocated in this Budget to complete a conservation management plan and to refurbish the Courthouse with a view to activating the space as we develop the longer-term visionary plans for the Gallery Precinct.

Importantly, this year’s capital works program again has a strong focus on delivering improved infrastructure in our suburbs, with $27.2 million set aside for roads, bridges and kerb and channelling.

$30 million will be spent on improving our water infrastructure, $19 million on the wastewater network, $5.6 million on our drainage systems, $3.8 million to create new parking spaces in the very busy hospital precinct, and $2.3 million on footpaths.

I truly believe that Cairns is the best place in Australia to live, work, relax and do business. That does not mean that it cannot be a better place.

This Budget allows for further significant investment in our community’s wellbeing, with $29 million for improvements to parks, sporting facilities, recreational areas, boat ramps, and cycle ways.

The funding includes $7.7 million to progress the much-anticipated Northern Beaches Leisure Trail which will deliver the Palm Cove to Trinity Beach link, and the Machans Beach and Holloways Beach connection over Barr Creek. A further $5.2 million is earmarked for next year’s Budget.

Other highlights in this sector are:

  • $3.4 million to develop parklands at Redlynch for recreational activities.
  • $2 million to construct roofs over the Cairns Tennis Centre and Cairns Netball courts
  • $1.5 million for parks and playgrounds
  • $1.5 million to improve the Holloways Beach foreshore
  • $1.3 million to replace the Centenary Lakes boardwalk
  • $1.1 million to complete the replacement of the Esplanade boardwalk
  • $1 million to upgrade amenities at Alley Park, and $700,000 to improve facilities at three of our well-used boat ramps.

In addition, the Budget allows for:

  • $2.3 million in grants to support community organisations and groups and to fund local events
  • $1.4 million for lifeguard services at the Lagoon and local beaches
  • $1.9 million in security services to boost safety in the CBD, and
  • $1.4 million to support Cairns Art Gallery operations.

As mentioned before, this Council’s record of keeping rate rises to a minimum is undisputed and this year is no different.

The rise in the general rate for 2018-2019 is 1.7 per cent which matches the current CPI and, because there are no changes in State land valuations this year, it means that all residential ratepayers will pay only an additional 1.7%.

A 1.7% 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.

Rates benchmarking 2017/18Our annual benchmarking exercise, as you can see on the screen shows that Cairns is the lowest of 11 other cities and towns in Queensland when you take all feeds into account. We will again undertake this exercise later this year but I’m confident we will stay in a similar position because we are locked into a long-term financial model that is based on raising rates at or around CPI.

We have taken into account significant investment in infrastructure creation and renewal in our long-term financial forecast, with capital expenditure for the next 10 years averaging $160 million per annum.

There will be challenges ahead and State and Federal Governments will be expected to “step up to the plate” and meet their fair share of investment in our strongly growing city and region. Council has carried a great deal of this load over the past 4-5 years.

Today’s Budget not only reflects the positive changes this organisation has implemented over a number of years, but provides for a sustainable local government that is well positioned to prosper from opportunities before us.

It recognises the need for fiscal responsibility and accountability and provides for the delivery of services which this community has the right to expect.

Cairns is on track to become the largest city in the north of this country and, as such, deserves the investment  required to provide the same level of services and living conditions as residents enjoy in the southern part of the continent.

As a Council, we will work with other key stakeholders in our region in a bid to secure the commitment required from all levels of Government to deliver the investment and policy required to enable our community to thrive.

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.

Council exists for no other reason than to ensure the provision of services and infrastructure to our city and its people and I am very proud of all of our Council management and staff and the job they do in achieving this goal. Thank you for that.

I commend the 2018-2019 Cairns Regional Council Budget to you for its adoption.

Last updated: 25 June 2018