FODS for thought

FODS for thought

On a rainy afternoon at Ramada Resort Port Douglas, 150 people gathered to hear key members of pro-deamalgamation lobby group Friends Of Douglas Shire (FODS) put forward their case as to why the Douglas region should break away from the Cairns Regional Council.

The event was organised by Phil Holloway, the Principal of real estate agents Century 21 in Port Douglas, who says not enough has been done by Cairns Regional Council to make amalgamation work.

Hear the interview with Phil Holloway (left)

Three keynote speakers addressed the audience including former Mayor of the Douglas Shire Council Mike Berwick, financial analyst David Carey, and current Division 10 councillor of Cairns Regional Council Julia Leu.

Mr Berwick began by giving a back-handed compliment to the LNP State Government saying he was grateful the region was given an opportunity to go to a referendum, but described the process by saying it was "as appalling as the ALP process...because it was secretive and unaccountable."

He also took aim at the Cairns Regional Council for their "absolute refusal to help with any numbers" during the gathering of financial data for the creation of their submission to the Boundaries Commissioner.

Mr Berwick said the recommendation given by the Boundaries Commissioner to the Minister for Local Government advising against a referendum in Douglas was due to an operating model used by the Cairns Regional Council, a model FODS claim would not be adopted by a re-formed Douglas Shire Council.

"That assessment just didn't pass the common sense test. The common sense test being that we were viable before, why wouldn't we be viable again?" Mr Bewick said.

FODS' number-cruncher David Carey presented his financial findings in a bid to help sway the opinions of some who believe the Queensland Treasury Council report that says ratepayers will foot a substantial bill by de-amalgamating.

"We had a fair amount of cash in the bank...Suggestions that might be flying around, and I know there is at least one person saying the council was broke at the time of amalgamation are completely unfounded,” he said.

"Anyone who wants to peruse the balance sheet of the final Douglas Shire Council will see it in black and white that there was $25 million there..."

He added that the FODS financial model does not include any money that may come back into the coffers of a re-formed Douglas Shire Council if de-amalgamation occurs.

Mr Carey said costs have sky-rocketed under a Cairns Regional Council, but rates would not reduce under a DSC.

"They're not going to go up, but they're not going to go down so any increases we've suffered as a consequence of amalgamation with Cairns, our model, unfortunately, suggests the level of those rates needs to stay."

Mr Carey predicted the cost of de-amalgamation would be financed with a loan of $2.75 million to be paid off over ten years to lessen the initial impact on ratepayers, and said the amount of money available for capital works in the region would increase from $35 million over five years from the Cairns Regional Council, to $42 million under a Douglas Shire Council.

Cr Leu then took the floor to dispel what she described as "myths" being circulated in the lead up to the vote.

"The first is the cost...We certainly believe the QTC analysis is floored and lacks credibility.

"No council or group of elected councillors are going to jack up the rates by the numbers suggested by QTC, nor does it have to.

"The second myth I want to talk about is that the new Douglas Shire would lack the ability to attract funding and maintain our facilities.

"It is ridiculous to suggest that we can't advocate and be successful in attracting state and federal funding when we need it and when it's required.

"The third myth is that de-amalgamation will have a negative effect on our economy. Claims that our economy will stagnate if we don't remain amalgamated need to be seriously challenged.

"Indeed I'm fearfull that is exactly what will happen over time if we don't de-amalgamate.”

Cr Leu said Douglas ratepayers are already subsidising several Cairns-based projects by contributing millions of dollars, money that could be spent on Douglas-based projects.