TOURISM STRUGGLES: Rob Hamilton from Abbey of the Roses would welcome some rates relief.
TOURISM STRUGGLES: Rob Hamilton from Abbey of the Roses would welcome some rates relief.

WHAT WARWICK WANTS: SDRC budget targets tourism, farming

IT’S time for the Southern Downs Regional Council to listen to its constituents, as the 2020/21 financial year budget goes under review.

Drought, fire, flood and pandemic have dealt blow after blow to the economy, leaving many residents in dire need of financial assistance.

“People need relief, just any relief,” said Southern Downs Mayor Vic Pennisi. “The cost of living is what’s hurting everyone, not just here, but everywhere.

“Anything the council can do to reduce the cost of living will have an impact on (residents’) lives, and they’ll appreciate that.”

Cr Pennisi, who was elected on a campaign promise of greater communication, said he’d been “walking the streets”, survey in hand, to find out what residents really want from their budget.

From these discussions, he identified three key areas: Rates, farming and tourism.

“The first thing I want to achieve is a zero rate rise,” he said. “I’d like to extend it for a full 12 months if possible.”

Rates on the Southern Downs are among the most expensive in Queensland and readers, like Danny Virtue, question why.

“They should be reduced,” Mr Virtue said. “Like most rural holdings, my rates pay for garbage collection and that’s it.”

Cr Pennisi’s second priority, farming, speaks to the ongoing struggle of drought-stricken farmers.

“They haven’t had a good season in five or six years, and they’re hurting,” he said.

Freestone cattleman Bill Gross said any financial assistance would be welcomed.

“They could help us with cheaper rates, and also with the fencing,” Mr Gross said

A large portion of his fencing was washed away by floods earlier this year, leaving him with yet another cost.

The third focus, tourism, comes off the back of an extended lockdown period that robbed accommodation providers of many bookings.

“If you own a motel and had no-one come and visit you, you still have to pay rates,” Cr Pennisi said. “If we can offer any relief, even on pedestal rates, in those areas that would be gratefully accepted.”

Pedestal rates are charges incurred for each toilet installed, and according to Sonia Hunt, owner of Abbey of the Roses, the additional cost can be punishing.

“Every toilet we have is about $800 per year, so if you have 20 toilets, it’s a lot,” she said.
“That could be a clever way of adjusting rates, if the mayor could do that I’d love him.”

Rob Hamilton of Abbey of the Roses said anything that helped to reduce overheads would be appreciated.

“Whatever council can do to help us to transition out of lockdown would be a big help,” he said.

The iconic Warwick tourism spot saw its revenue drop 112% backwards in March, as bookings were cancelled and needed to be refunded.

That’s why, according to Ms Hunt, she was thankful the drafted budget dropped a few licensing fees.

“It’s only $600 or $700, but every single cent counts right now,” she said.

“We appreciate they did that without being asked or hassled.

“They thought about what we’re going through, and they helped, and it’s good.”