THERE was an air of optimism at Muswellbrook and District Workers Club on Tuesday when Muswellbrook Shire Council delivered its 2017/18 budget.
Between a $400,000 assistance to Muswellbrook Race Club; and another $400,000 to aid business expansion, development or relocation to the shire, there were a number of reasons for locals to smile.
While mostly positive, community members remained cautious about council’s announcement it had exchanged contracts to buy Muswellbrook Marketplace for $34.25 million.
However, following Councillor Scott Bailey’s delivery of the budget at the annual breakfast, there were few negative or concerned questions raised.
“There is now growing evidence that the Upper Hunter economy is moving out of the doldrums, which began with the end of the construction phase of the mining boom,” Cr Bailey said during his address.
Muswellbrook Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Mike Kelly said it was another ambitious and progressive budget.
“Despite the knockback of the rate increase of the special projects by IPART, they’ve still got a lot of investment happening, particularly in the CBD.
“They’ve got a balanced budget, with a long-term return to the general fund from their future fund.
“So, there’s a lot of new ideas.
“The purchasing of the Marketplace is the biggest surprise and change that we’ve seen in this budget.
“But they say that they’re comfortable with investment in that and that they can get a return, and improve the occupancy rate and improve the scale and cross-section of retail – which is a positive thing.
“The Chamber will continue to study the budget and make suggestions to council of where things could be improved.
“But, overall, the business community sees what’s happening in the general area as positive.”
Cr Bailey said a record $12.4million in 2017/18 was available to fund the renewal of commuity assets, the construction of new assets and the retirement of debt.
“The infrastructure budget is headlined by the construction and main stage of the new sewage treatment plant – to be known as the Recycled Water Treatment Works,” he said.
“Council recently awarded a tender to Downer Utilities Australia to construct the new works which will be located at a greater distance from residential areas than the existing facility.
“Completion of the project is scheduled for early 2019.”
The budget also includes a 13 per cent increase in road safety device renewals, and $1 million for a fibre-optic cable between council’s town centre buildings and its administration centre to improve its internal information systems, and improve efficiency.
Cr Bailey said there was a “significant injection” of additional funding to improve the quality of the local events.
He said council was pleased to announce its funding commitment to Muswellbrook Race Club through $50,000 to assist the transition plan for the Muswellbrook Cup.
Funding of the Blue Heeler Film Festival will increase from $12,000 to $50,000; and the Bottoms Up Craft Beer and Music Festival will receive an increase in funding from $20,000 to $60,000.
Council will work with Upper Hunter Shire Council, Hunter Councils, and Upper Hunter Country Tourism to create an App for marking local events.
Arts and Culture
It was an exciting morning for art fans.
Cr Bailey announced that from 2018, the Muswellbrook Art Prize would be an annual event, rather than occurring every two years.
“It is now the most valuable art prize in regional Australasia [at $70,000],” he said.
Cr Bailey said although council was disappointed it could not progress with the performance venue at this stage, due to IPARTs rejection of Muswellbrook Shire Council’s special rate variation, it remained committed to finding a solution.
Sport and recreation
Sport is highly valued by Muswellbrook Shire residents, and so council committed to continuing the small and major dollar-for-dollar sporting capital grants program in 2017/18, which it began in 2016.
Another casualty of IPART’s decision, the Muswellbrook Aquatic Centre will not receive a full upgrade to its premises.
However, council announced its commitment to refurbishing the outdoor swimming pool.
A further $400,000 was allocated to Muswellbrook Race Club to assist with the expansion of its events venue.
Environment and sustainability
Council allocated $137,500 towards its effort to reach its 40 per cent renewable energy target for general fund buildings by 2020, and will give $250,000 to Landcare for works on Muscle Creek, while council seeks a funding grant for the proposed Karoola Wetlands works.
Jobs and economy
Cr Bailey said council was calling on the state government to match its commitment of $10 million for economic diversification in the shire.
“Council commits a further $400,000 to help seed fund the expansion of existing businesses or the relocation or development of new businesses into areas of identified economic gap,” he said.
Supported by Mt Arthur Coal, council will start construction on Stage Two of the Tertiary Education Centre.
It was also reported that the Sam Adams College, now in its third year, was up from 35 per cent occupancy to 60 per cent.
The Denman Town Centre Masterplan will receive a boost, with council and Glencore Mangoola committing $200,000 for designs for Stage Two.
And, Sandy Hollow Village Masterplan was allocated $40,000, which was matched by Glencore Mangoola.
In conclusion, Cr Bailey said the budget recognised the community was at an important crossroads.
“Council must show strong leadership as our economy grows and transitions into the future,” he said.
To see the Muswellbrook Shire Council 2017/18 budget in full, visit www.muswellbrook.nsw.gov.au