Bundaberg Regional Council CEO Steve Johnston explains the coronavirus stimulus package. Picture: Chris Burns
Bundaberg Regional Council CEO Steve Johnston explains the coronavirus stimulus package. Picture: Chris Burns

Council creates relief package in response to Covid-19

BUNDABERG Regional Councillors unanimously voted for an economic stimulus package in response to COVID-19's local impact during its council meeting today.

But the council is in caretaker mode, which means that the stimulus package targets short-term measures through delegation powers of chief executive Stephen Johnston until the new council decides on further action through the 2020-21 budget.

The package so far includes a moratorium on interest for outstanding rates and charges until June, and rent relief for council owned commercial tourism and retail shop leases until September 30.

There would also be a waving of airport fees for commercial aircrafts, a six month extension of all dog registrations, a six month extension of licences and permits for regulated premises and of food licences at no charge, and a refund of event permits and venue bookings.

Parking restrictions will not be enforced.

Mr Johnston said he was uncertain of the exact monetary value of the stimulus package, but also said the outstanding rates to council was currently $10 million, which was "a significant investment".

"If you look at the range of measures today we're certainly not talking tens of thousands, we're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars," he said.

"I think we're going to have to look at other ways to make cuts, or be doing what the Federal Government has done and running a deficit budget.

"I think that goes to the heart of what the $34 million unallocated surplus is there for."

Mr Johnston refers to funding which had been pooled away from past annual budgets, and had been intended for major projects such as the Kalkie and Gregory water treatment plants, which had been tendered for.

"But that may be the well we have to go and dip into to meet the costs of some of these measures, certainly, and look at what the implications are for next year's budget."

Mr Johnston will need to prepare a report of the stimulus package's total cost for the new council at its first meeting. which he hoped would happen by mid-April.

Incumbent Mayor Jack Dempsey formally moved the stimulus package, explaining that "these are challenging times".

He said an economic recovery group will be established immediately, which will have representatives from the local community who would help plan the recovery of the local economy.

"We're fortunate the Bundaberg Region has a diversified economy and resilient people," Cr Dempsey said in the council meeting.

"We proved in 2011 and 2013 that we are a strong community. With effective leadership from council we will rebound quickly when the immediate threat has passed.

"I've asked the CEO to prepare costings and report to the first meeting of the new council with details.

"Some of these measures will be implemented immediately under delegation and announcements will be made over the coming days."

Cr Dempsey said there should also be more support for local sporting and community groups through a grants program.

Incumbent governance spokeswoman Helen Blackburn, a mayoral candidate along with Cr Dempsey, supported the package.

But she said after the meeting that councillors needed more of an understanding of the costs of such measures.

"I voted in the affirmative because I know that we need to be doing things immediately … to show that as a council we're working together for the betterment of the community," she said. "From next week I believe the council really needs to have a good look at what they're doing moving forward."

Burnett MP Stephen Bennett said the council showed "strong leadership" in its measures taken to help locals.

"These are unprecedented times as we deal with the biggest public health crisis to affect Queensland in more than a century, and our community needs support," Mr Bennett said.

"These measures will take some pressure off our community and I thank council for listening to our call for assistance."

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