Friday, June 1, 2012

Vroom......... Should Cairns be off and racing?

So, the V8's are being considered for the Cairns region. I have read the online comments everywhere on the subject and those in print and it seems to have plenty of support. I'm not sure what happened to the idea of having the large stadium but it seems to have fallen by the wayside in the bid for a once-a-year car race.

That being the case, I thought I'd look up some detail on the current situation in Townsville, as an interested local of Cairns who would like to see some grand plan for the future make its way here. While I remain unsure of the repercussions of having an event here which is fairly obviously an environmental nightmare, I'm sure that Cairns could re-brand itself if required. Can't really profess to being a sustainable city with ecological marvels if we run a SuperCar race for three days a year.

So, here are the facts. Townsville ratepayers have forked out almost $2.5 million since the first Townsville 400 V8 Supercars race - on top of their initial $30 million investment. It should be noted that the track actually cost $55 million but funding from the State Government of $25 million meant that Townsville's portion was only $30 million.

In the three years it has been running the council has spent $2,423,313 on maintenance, rates, water and in-kind event support at Reid Park and have received just $133'000 in revenue. That means it costs rate-payers to keep the race. It also receives funding of 2.5 million per year from the State Government to remain operational. This money is in question at the moment which is one of the primary reasons, along with the 5 year contract renewal, that Townsville is unsure of its future viability.

Mackay is also lobbying to take the V8's from Townsville. They believe they have the infrastructure and space to cater to the event, a claim that Townsville denies as they are of the opinion there is little in the way of accommodation choices in the Mackay region.

Almost all parties acknowledge that for one week per year, Townsville fills up hotels and restaurants for the event. The current concern is that the money made by businesses is offset by Rate input into the track and to spend so heavily on a venue which operates for 3 days a year total is something all parties are worried about. They are however, considering other events (suggestions include a cultural festival and music festivals) which could utilise the space throughout the year.

Townville also has a significant problem at the moment which is the prime cause of the conversations around the events viability. Their Council has extremely high debt. In documents detailing the sustainability of Council coffers it states that debt as at May 2011 was $380 million and with good fiscal management and annual Rate rises of  6% it is forecast to drop to $250 million in 2021. This is because Townsville Council has continued to build infrastructure on a large scale over the past several years and has simply added the cost of the Dairy Farmers Stadium, Reed Park facility, Strand development etc....... to their borrowings.

In comparison, a similar document on Cairns Regional Council states that the total debt is $83 million, much lower than Townsville. The borrowing capacity for Cairns is therefore much higher and while this document includes the CEP as it was forecast to occur when the document was written, Rates would rise by 6% in this region also as the debt was to be paid off much quicker.

Both Councils have increased Rates by significant amounts in past years, with Cairns having the lowest Rates rises over the past 4 years, but rises of between 9 and 12 percent for the four years prior to that. At the same time, Townsville rates have risen by an average of 9-12 percent over the entire 8 year period.

Also worth noting, Cairns Regional Council is projected to have low maintenance costs over the next 4 year period as the previous 4 years saw new water and waste infrastructure built at significant cost but now requiring little in the way of future maintenance. Townsville will spend double the amount of Cairns on maintenance of assets each year.

All of this indicates that Cairns is well placed financially to borrow 30-60 million to build a V8 track. It is doubtful that the Cairns community will allow for further borrowings for a stadium, and certainly will not allow any borrowings for a replacement to the Civic Theatre. It is now vitally important that Cairns locals decide on their priorities. With jobs so desperately needed and new infrastructure the best way to kick-start the economy, one of the three projects will need to begin as soon as possible.

Obviously I would prefer a replacement to the Civic Theatre first. As far as I am aware, the current sporting facilities are not in danger of crumbling and have appropriate wheelchair access. That said, there is no denying that Cairns is as much a sporting city as it is an artistic one. To my mind, V8's do not belong in Cairns and I would happily allow Townsville to keep them, even helping them lobby further so that Mackay loses out and the people of Cairns can still attend. I'll happily lobby for a sporting stadium locally if that is what the people of Cairns would prefer as I firmly believe it is needed here and our population would support it.

If the Civic Theatre closed it's doors tomorrow due to safety issues, similar to what happened to Sugarworld, would it be that day when people finally realised the importance of the facility? I don't know. Maybe not.

Still....... we have options here in Cairns. Now is the right time to explore them as our finances are good and the future looks bright. Which facility would you utilise most?


  1. great article, interesting facts. can you provide the rates increases for each year of val scheirs council?

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  3. It is very difficult to obtain the information you have asked for k.nevill, as the numbers are difficult to put into an 'average' amount. As an example, in 2006 (mid-way through the Byrne Council's term) Rates rose by as much as 200% in some areas (Northern Beaches for example), while in the CBD they rose by as little as 3.5%. An average is therefore almost impossible. In 2007 Rates changed structure to assess Unit developments and what is referred to as 'high end properties' to make expensive homes cost less in Rates, while Units went up substantially. Likewise, in 2008 (the first year of the Schier Council) Rates rose by large amounts (as much as 50%) in Port Douglas but only minimally in Cairns, giving an 'average' of 10.5%. This was due to the Amalgamation of the two shires into the Cairns Regional Council. Since then it has been slightly easier to ascertain though, and Rates rose (averages) in 2009 by 7.8%, in 2010 by 5% and in 2011 by 3.4%. Nothing to do with Rates but I also discovered this along my travels, in a 2006 Cairns Council mail-out which was used to inform residents of what was happening in Council Chambers;

    * Feasibility study into joint performing arts/regional museum
    With the acquisition of a 1.1 hectare site adjacent to the Cairns Convention Centre for
    a new Performing Arts Centre, Council commenced discussions with the State
    Government regarding the potential for the co-location of a Regional Museum with
    the Performing Arts Centre.
    Following a proposal from Council, the State Government provided $50,000 to jointly
    fund a feasibility study with Council. A new Performing Arts Centre will replace the 30-
    year-old Civic Theatre which can only seat 660.
    Under Council's proposal, the study would need to produce information that would
    be relevant to an integrated facility, but also to a stand-alone Performing Arts Centre
    so that Council could proceed with its plans for this site in the event that a joint facility
    did not prove to be feasible.

  4. Leigh is correct on some of tha anomalies in rate increases. My own rates in an older Esplanade property have increased by only about 1% p.a during the entire period of the Schier council inclusive of charges such as garbage etc. That followed our rates doubling in two years under the previous Kevin Byrne council. The Byrne council was negligent and fiscally irresponsible in not adequately increasing rates to cover cost increases.

    There are many aspects of this that are completely misunderstood including by seasoned councillors. I still retain the email from now again deputy mayor Terry James some years ago telling me that I must live in an Esplanade penthouse to pay the rates I did. Well no, Terry, almost the exact opposite actually mate!

  5. Looks like Cairns is in for a rough ride in the next 4 odd years. Still the most beautifull region in OZ.
    It makes me wonder where they would race these V8 cars?
    Up and down the woobly old Ray Jones drive?
    I think a Billycart race down the Gillies would be more fun.
    Less carbon emissions to boot.
    How about a giant pumpkin growing contest?

  6. I'm sure they've all got a picture in their heads of V8s running up and down the Esplanade, but in reality, the only suitable roads are down in Portsmith. Not exactly a postcard area. I'd prefer it was still in Townsville so Cairns people can attend. If they don't want it and they've already got the infrastructure, you'd have to ask questions how it could then be feasible here?

  7. thanks for the answer on rates, boy things have really changed on the political scene in the last week or so! even maccas pack of attack dogs have turned rabid! and poor old macca cant get anyone except gav and wozza to talk to him. cant do, manning and james unavailable to chat and even gav was too busy to take calls...then spent the afternoon tweeting in parliament and posting pics. what a mess we are in, makes val, bligh and the cep on the wharf all look like winners!