Higher council rates on the way

Traffic congestion on Maroochy river bridge and Sunshine Motorway. Photo: Chris McCormack
Traffic congestion on Maroochy river bridge and Sunshine Motorway. Photo: Chris McCormack

This week’s Sunshine Coast council meeting was an expensive one for ratepayers, with councillors voting to introduce an annual $20 public transport levy and accepting recommendations to increase water charges by 14% in the upcoming budget.

And there could be more bad news to follow, with a mooted 6.3% increase in general rates and the removal of part-pensioner rate rebates for new applicants after July 1.

Mayor Bob Abbot said the $20 public transport levy per property was necessary to ensure everyone could access affordable, quality public transport that offered a genuine alternative to the private car.

“This initiative is essential for preserving our quality of life,” he said.

“If we don’t move on public transport now, we’ll be facing traffic gridlock in many areas in the very near future.”

Mr Abbot said the move was a key element in the council’s strategy to make the Sunshine Coast Australia’s most sustainable region.

Council’s transport portfolio spokesperson Vivien Griffin said a dedicated levy would ensure the funds did not disappear into general revenue and would be directed towards specific public transport projects.

Projects included $297 million for the CoastConnect priority bus corridor project, more than $3 billion each for the CAMCOS rapid transit project from Beerwah to Maroochydore and the Multi Modal transport corridor along the Coast.

“I know the introduction of the levy will send a strong message to the state government that this council is serious about public transport, and we will be looking to be a responsible partner with them in delivering these major projects,” Ms Griffin said.

Services between the hinterland and the coast also needed to be improved.

Mr Abbot said the increase in water rates had been forced on the council by the state government’s water reforms.

“I have said since the government announced plans to take over council-owned water assets that we could all expect to pay more for water as a result,” Mr Abbot said.

“We don’t like having to charge more but there’s not much we can do when the government is charging us more.”

A 21% hike in government bulk water charges, increased operating costs and a potential loss of revenue due to falling demand when mid-level water restrictions are imposed from July 1, has forced the rise.

Coast households will pay $1.35 per kilolitre for the first 600 litres per day in 2009-2010, up from $1.10 this year.

Council finance portfolio spokesman Chris Thompson said the council had made every effort to keep rises to a minimum.

“We are trying to manage the impact of the bulk water price rise without having to impose an increase in general rates,” he said.

“We are all being forced to pay more due to the government’s reforms and its $9 billion water grid.

“It’s just disappointing that after 111 years of successful water management, we’ve been put in this position and we’re no longer the masters of our own destiny.”

This will be the last time the council sets water charges as next year the government assumes full control.

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