Looking back on the year of 2017
MAYORAL MESSAGE by Katie Milne
COUNCIL'S Annual Report gives a great snapshot of the year for Council and shines some light into what happened across the Shire during 2017.
The flood of Cyclone Debbie dominated the year with "The big one” that former mayor Max Boyd always warned us of. No-one predicted this particular cyclone would circle back to the Tweed with such force though, or the extent of the torrential rains. The waters rose quickly, and in the dark of the night it was catastrophic.
Our thoughts are still with all those who suffered so badly, and to the many we know are still suffering, especially those who lost loved ones.
I saw Council staff show absolute dedication to the community during this time. The local and wider community were incredible. Literally hundreds of people reached out to help not just family and friends but neighbours and strangers too.
We can never thank the SES and all our emergency service men and women enough for their extraordinary assistance and the many lives they saved. This flood did highlight that we need a lot more SES trained volunteers so please consider joining up.
Over $430,000 was raised for the Mayoral Flood Appeal. That amazing generosity benefited hundreds of affected people and again showed the community cared deeply.
Even though the flood was so consuming, Council still met all the annual statutory reporting requirements, the former 'Fit for the Future' (or amalgamate) benchmarks, and we even achieved an $11 million surplus at the end of the financial year. This is the largest surplus I have ever seen for Council. Some of the surplus is due to abnormal State Government payment periods, but this healthy balance is still very reassuring.
There were some fantastic economic indicators for the Shire also. The unemployment rate had a whopping decrease from 8.4% to 5%, and the average number of employees per business increased from 4.3 (2015) to 5.6 (2017). Tweed's economic output increased by $586,400 to $5.386 million.
There were some serious downsides though. Council had a target of a 5% electricity reduction target for our facilities but there was a 1% increase instead. Council's Greenhouse gas emissions did decrease, but only by 1%.
Happily, Council's Renewable Energy Action Plan was released later this year which should kick start some real action. Now we've had a taste of the consequences of climate change with this flood there is a much greater focus on this imperative.
Housing affordability was also a huge worry. Rents went up an astounding 19% from an average of $400 per week to an almost impossible $500. House sale prices rose by 15%. The homeless situation has been worse than ever, especially with the flood, and Council has been advocating strongly and persistently to the State Government to provide social housing with some limited success.
The four-year funding for the Koala Connections project came to an end having planted a massive 76,000 trees in Tweed and Byron for our koalas and the myriad of other threatened species that are hungry and homeless too.
Council had a target of 300ha for Council owned bushland under active management, but we only reached 213ha. With the assistance of Council, private bushland values did increase though, way beyond the 100ha target to reach 170ha. A total of 6.2km of streambank was also improved, beating the 5km target, but paling into insignificance compared to the revegetation needed after the flood. More Landcare volunteers and Wildlife Carers are desperately needed to care for our damaged environment.
Council has been grappling with some very challenging industries in commercial water bottling and private native forestry, as well as dealing with some very serious clearing incidents. In all these matters the community has expressed extreme concerns.
There is much to do to better protect and provide for our community and our precious and internationally significant environment. I am pleased this Council is taking these responsibilities more seriously than ever before, and I thank my fellow Councillors, Council staff and the community for all their support over the year.