Strong leadership, a clear economic plan and a brighter more secure future for Douglas
The time has come for new opportunities, ideas and representation to move Douglas to its next stage of progress as a shire.
For many years, our shire has been plagued with issues of division, caught in the grip of historical attitudes and shouted down from being the best it can be by loud minority beliefs.
But this can change. Through ongoing community consultation and transparent and open operations, I believe council can better deliver what the community wants.
Amalgamation and de-amalgamation caused great angst in Douglas and the result of this process was a large financial burden on ratepayers. It’s done and dusted now and we are an individual shire that must continue standing on its own two feet for the sake of the rate base that lives and invests in our relatively small shire.
The goal and direction of the incumbent mayor to be in the black by 2019-20 financial year has been brutal for ratepayers and many also believe economically damaging to the infrastructure of our tourism townships and the locals who live in them. While record capital works may have been undertaken, you have to ask whether the projects delivered have been what you, the ratepayer, are aware of or wanted or needed. With over $11m in losses since de-amalgamation, even as council currently receives more than 28% higher rates revenue income than it did in 2014, this goal of surplus still comes with what appears to be a budget forecast that is unachievable without cuts to services. After years of constantly raising rates to cover the costs of de-amalgamation, as a ratepayer myself, I believe I speak for many when I say that rates in Douglas are no longer a value-for-money proposition. Many roads are in poor shape, parks and gardens are often no better than paddocks and trust in the judgment of investments made by the shire is shaky at best.
With rates and body corporate fees at levels higher than most regions, Douglas is no longer a place where investors want to place their portfolios either. As properties elsewhere attract higher and safer returns, the shire’s gross regional product now sits lower than pre-de-amalgamation, so as other councils have grown, ours continues to decline. This, in turn, has led to near-negative availability of rental properties as owners try to cover their costs through the short-let AirBnB market in the hunt for better returns. And those who haven’t been successful in keeping their investments profitable are part of the 20% plus of owners with properties currently listed on the market desperately trying to get out of what appears to be a worsening situation. Council needs to refocus and turn this dire situation around, retaining residents of all ages through improved housing and employment outcomes rather than face a rising tide of “For Sale” signs as locals and investment property owners of our community leave.
Our local environment is our lifeline. It’s the reason we live here and largely why tourists visit us, so it’s also our responsibility to ensure the environment is preserved for many generations to come. We must have an educated, rational and holistic approach to our environment and its protection, setting out achievable but realistic goals to ensure we are playing a role in both the environment’s and residents’ long-term survival. Council governs for all in the shire but it must act for the benefit of the majority, so we need to consult and gain consensus with ratepayers on our environmental stance so we can commit to how, what and when environmental goals are achieved.
The Douglas Shire Planning scheme is complex, constraining and often frustrating. While the essence of the scheme is to protect and limit development, it also creates difficulty for developing projects that our shire needs and wants. It’s time for the scheme to be reassessed with minor changes made as part of our economic recovery growth plan.
Although we live in the wet tropics, water is always a constant issue, with water restrictions imposed on a seemingly constant basis. The economic downturn that this creates is tenfold: Locals live with dust and dead gardens; landscapers, gardeners and horticulturists lose work; and visitors arrive to be disappointed or even critical of the shire as a tourist destination. We need to nip this in the bud and make better water planning a central part of the next council’s agenda.
As our population and the regions around us grow, and as we attempt to revitalise the tourism sector, it’s vital council has a plan to identify ways to improve our road networks so we can all better access areas throughout the region. I will introduce a Road Network Plan that will be used as an important guide when planning for improvements, repairs and future road developments.
Having pride in the way our towns are presented to visitors and residents should be a high priority for council. If we are to grow as an international tourist destination and present our shire as an attractive place for people to move to, we must take more pride in how our region is presented. Major town strips in the shire can be improved and our parks and gardens need to be given the priority they deserve through restoration works, improvements (where necessary) and ongoing care to ensure we remain proud of a shire many of us still believe is a tourist destination jewel in the crown for Far North Queensland. As part of this, we must also ensure we can achieve realistic material and services budgets for maintenance in the shire, which are currently forecasted at below the 2016/2017 actuals.
Finally, I personally feel and am sure it’s a sentiment held by many, that it’s time we as a community and council show our ageing population how important they are to us by finding ways to help them stay in our region during their later years. Despite our shire’s ageing population and being an attractive lifestyle option for retirees, we have little in the way of cost-effective housing options for an older demographic, so the issue of affordable housing must be addressed in areas of Douglas that desperately need it.
These are the ten key items (click on each of the tabs for more detailed information on each) that will be my lead priorities if elected mayor in the 2020 election and that are key to my 2020 vision for the shire.