Ballina may be sitting on more than a billion dollars of assets, but the council has almost reached its borrowing capacity and needs a rate increase to fund improvements to its swimming pools.
Councillors signed off on annual financial statements yesterday, which showed that its operating surplus from all activities for 2014 was $110,000, down from $27,211,000 in 2013.
Mayor David Wright told Echonetdaily that the extra money in the bank last year was a result of unspent loans, which had since been spent.
‘That $27 million figure was because we borrowed a heap of money to fund our sewerage plan but when you take that away we’re equivalent to last year,’ he said.
‘We spent $63 million on the West Ballina sewerage treatment plant because the state government said it needed to be upgraded because the Cumbulum land development needed sewerage and water.’
The Cumbulum development could eventually result in 3000 new homes, and has been likened to the duplication of the existing villages of Alstonville and Wollongbar.
‘Our water fund was break even and the general fund didn’t do too badly
Cr Wright said Ballina remained one of the lowest rated councils on the north coast, just above Richmond Valley Council. But that would change because RVC had been allowed rate rises over the next three years.
‘We’ve got $60 million in land and we’ve built a lot of stuff but we haven’t borrowed anything that we can’t pay back,’ Cr Wright said.
With that in mind, the council yesterday decided on its priority projects to apply for funding under the recently announced federal government National Stronger Regions Fund, which requires a dollar for dollar contribution from councils.
‘We went for the Coast Guard tower because we’ve got plans prepared and a million dollars set aside. We need another million from the government,’ Cr Wright said.
The council will also apply for funding to complete the coastal recreation path between Lennox Head and Ballina, and for a road linking the airport to industrial land owned by the council.
The proposed Ballina Sports Centre, estimated to cost around $15 million, remains on hold for now as a site has not been confirmed and the council has not budgeted for construction.
‘We’d love the sports stadium but we just can’t afford it yet.
He said consultations so far had shown that many groups were unhappy with the proposed special rate rise for swimming pools, but the increase was the only way the upgrades could be completed.
‘It’s all still out for consultation and there’s a letter going out this week to say that it would be a permanent increase because it would take us 15 years to pay back the loan.’
Cr Wright said selling off assets was not the answer.
He said assets such as Department of Community Services building were of greater value to the council by way of annual rents, than if they were sold.
‘Once you sell it it’s gone. We sell land because we’ve got a lot of it but that’s why we won’t sell the airport,’ he said.