The 2019-20 Bundaberg Regional Council annual report reveals a “tale of two halves” as COVID-19 hit the community from March onwards.
Chief executive Steve Johnston said the first six months were largely business as usual while the second half was the most challenging and difficult Council had experienced since amalgamation.
“The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with the election campaign and there was uncertainty for a while if the poll would even go ahead,” he said.
“After the election on 28 March, there was a bigger delay than normal before results were finally declared, during which a strict lockdown was enforced.
“The lockdown contained the public health crisis but triggered a financial and economic crisis which we are still grappling with.”
Mr Johnston said the new Council had to manage social and operational aspects of the pandemic response while framing a budget in circumstances in which revenue was significantly reduced.
“I’m proud to report that staff and Councillors have stepped up and met the challenges we faced,” he said.
“The new Council adopted the Mayor’s COVID-19 relief package as one of its first decisions.
“Unlike some other Councils, we retained all our staff during the lockdown and afterwards, redeploying people whose regular jobs temporarily no longer existed.
“An external recruitment freeze was instituted, requiring internal transfers to meet critical vacancies.”
Mr Johnston said the organisation adapted effectively to the challenging circumstances.
“We quickly activated IT systems to enable employees to work from home where practical,” he said.
“At one time we had nearly 100 staff utilising this option.
“We were also able to respond quickly to the COVID-19 social distancing requirements because of our disseminated work areas across the region, including multiple works depots and service counters.
“The experience was beneficial in testing Council’s capability to continue operating as normally as possible during an emergency situation.”
Mr Johnston said Council achieved a small surplus in 2019-20 despite lower revenue from operational areas such as holiday parks, the Moncrieff, Multiplex and Airport.
“This showed the benefit of Council’s prudent budgeting over the past few years,” he said.
“It also meant we were able to offer rate relief for the vast majority of ratepayers in the 2020-21 Budget.
“Despite valuation changes in many cases, more than 80 per cent of ratepayers are paying the same or less than last year in general rates.”
Mr Johnston said the new Council has already completed all its policy reviews in addition to unanimously adopting the 2020-21 Budget.
“I commend the camaraderie and spirit of teamwork that has been established among our newly elected members in a short period with the executive team,” he said.
“Unless there is a second wave of coronavirus in our region, I’m confident that Council has the building blocks in place to move forward with minimal impact on regular services and operations.”
The annual report shows Council’s revenue was $227 million, of which $152.3 million came from rates.
Council owns assets valued at $2.4 billion, with infrastructure such as roads, footpaths, bridges, stormwater drainage, water and sewerage, accounting for 80 per cent.
- Download the Bundaberg Regional Council 2019-20 Annual Report.