by Jessica McGrath
South Burnett Regional Council has voted to increase the Kingaroy Transformation Project budget, despite stern warnings from the Mayor.
The council approved a budget of $13.9 million over three financial years and adopted a multi-year program after further design and consultation planning was conducted for the ‘once in a generation’ project.
The project, originally estimated at $11.1 million during the application, was debated during the November general council meeting last Wednesday.
Deputy Mayor Gavin Jones proposed an amendment seeing the budget increase from a proposed $13.6 million, adding on an extra $300,000 as contingency for the massive project.
Councillors Danita Potter, Ros Frohloff and Scott Henschen supported the amendment.
However, Mayor Brett Otto and Councillors Kathy Duff and Kirsty Schumacher voted strongly against the larger budget.
The project will be a partnership delivered over the next two years with $4.5 million coming from the Australian Government’s Building Better Regions Fund. The council will invest $9.4 million from funded depreciation and restricted cash to replace and upgrade roads, footpaths, water and waste-water infrastructure.
The council is still waiting to see if key stakeholders with infrastructure interests, Ergon Energy and the Department of Transport and Main Roads will commit to contributing to the project.
If the assistance from Ergon is not successful, the current designs will allow for work to be done later.
Mayor Otto said they could not rely on money coming from the State or Federal government.
“The state government doesn’t have money to throw around after Covid,” he said.
All of the councillors agreed the town was well overdue for rejuvenation.
Cr Jones said the project had overwhelming support and he saw it as a regional benefit.
“This project will create a remarkable change to this town,” he said.
“Kumbia, Murgon, Wondai… all of those updated streetscapes will be linked back to the transformation project.
“I do understand the concerns but in my time as councillor this is by far the best, scoped, most professional preparation.”
Cr Schumacher said it was Kingaroy’s time.
“But I’ve got to be confident on the numbers and I’m just not there yet,” she said.
Mayor Otto was pleased to see the CBD facelift coming together, but was adamant they needed to get it right.
“Once you start you set a level of expectation,” he said.
The mayor was particularly concerned with the financial position the council may be in with increasing the budget for this three-year project.
“There’s no guarantee that the budget won’t go up, with our financial position we could find ourselves in financial distress or significant rate rises,” Mayor Otto said.
“As a qualified accountant I would not have advised to proceed with the recommendation costing.
“We have a serious obligation to deal with ratepayer’s money very sensibly.”
He said overspending on this project could put pressure on the council’s financial margin.
“We could be in the position that for the first time in council, what we owe in debt could be similar to our cash balance.”
Cr Potter said the project was desperately needed to reinvigorate the economy, while Cr Schumacher urged it was needed as a catalyst for growth in the community.
“It’ll help us attract people, professionals, and will create jobs during and after the project is finalised,” Cr Potter said.
“It’ll keep our kids here, we need them to come back.
“The lights will aid to help with safety and security in the area, and imagine the laughter of kids interacting with the lights.”
However, the wider region wanted to see the Kingaroy CBD transformation come together.
“I sold it to the community, everyone agreed,” Cr Duff said.
“But this is a once-in-a-lifetime project, but it’s not the only once-in-a-lifetime project,” she said.
Mayor Otto said the council also had other projects they wanted to achieve during their three-year-term, such as work on Kingaroy’s Memorial Park and in other towns across the region.
However, the council confirmed transformation project was not expected to take away funding reserved for other works across the region.
The transformation project ground-breaking ceremony is set for 14 December.