It appears that the Council is becoming rattled and unravelled by this Mackay Park business. The secrecy around the purchase of the Bowling Club site is finally facing the light of day. What you had was back room negotiations, political promises by councillors, objections by councillors that the property was only worth $1.2m at best and as it was landlocked. When asked for a current valuation what was displayed was an old single valuation that indicated a value of around $4m that was openly challenged with the council refusing to undertake a current valuation prior to buying the property in April 2016. What is known is that the property was originally bought by a local club to financially "assist" a bowling club. There were promises made that the acquisition would be to the benefit of both clubs. That did not result and following the transfer of the lucrative poker machines from one premise to the other the bowling club feel to its knees. No longer required it was available for sale. The following is a letter to the Editor of The Bay Post by Councillor Milton Leslight on 11th May 2016 following the purchase of the bowling club site by Council. It was not published. Letter to the editor
Leslight Condemns Poor Purchasing Practices
I have been accused of turning my back on the Batemans Bay community because I voted against the three million dollar acquisition of the Batemans Bay Bowling Club.
Please let me set the record straight.
I would have fully supported the purchase of the old club site if I had been presented with:
A sworn valuation from a registered valuer that confirmed the site was worth the proposed three million dollar bid, and;
A business plan that demonstrated that the purpose for which the site was being purchased, justified the outlay.
As a professional real estate agent, my professional integrity would be at risk if I supported an acquisition that failed the most basic tests of value for money and cost/ benefit. Property professionals do not purchase expensive commercial real estate without first obtaining a formal valuation. Council buying expensive property on behalf of the ratepayer, without any predetermined purpose and cost/benefit analysis, is something that should concern us all.
Cr. Milton Leslight 11th May 2016 What is now known is that the purchase of the site was conducted behind closed doors on April 26th, 2016 and that the matter was dealt in Confidential as documented in the Minutes however there was no detail at all of the matter, the motion or the vote. What is also known is that the councillors were pretty pissed off at not being given a heads-up that this decision had to be made immediately with little if any time for discussion. Council has also not been open or forthcoming in revealing the findings of an engineering report conducted on the Batemans Bay pool stating that the report was commercial in confidence. There is nothing commercial in confidence in the fact that the pool itself had no defects of any significance or that the filters and motors could do with some maintenance and replacements. There was nothing commercial in confidence that the structures were all reasonably sound and basically there was nothing untoward that was worthy of concern that a bit of maintenance money wouldn't fix. One might wonder why Council are so keen to suppress this report. Only today the General Manager reiterated that they would not release the report unless directed by the consultant as it was commercial in confidence. Each and all the Councillors have seen the report and it would be a simple matter to ask them if they read anything in the report that gave them concern on the safety or performance of the pool in either the short term or long term that could not be overcome with an allocation of general maintenance funds. Such information regarding a public asset is in the interest of the public and can not be classified as commercial in confidence when all that is required is a Yes or No answer. It is due time the councillors as a whole began to realise that they are now part of the continuing veil of secrecy that is destroying the credibility of Eurobodalla Council and any skerric of faith or trust that the community has in the institution. In watching Council for 30 years this is now one of the lowest of the lows that they have come in terms of community respect or trust. however what it might reveal is that they wish to undertake the removal of a perfectly fine asset and replace it prior to the end of its life simply because there is grant funding available and they have a Once in a Lifetime opportunity of securing it. The Once in a Lifetime opportunity comes from the profits made by the NSW State Government in selling off its Poles and Wires. The grant monies are no more than a token redistribution of SOME of the profit into regional NSW while the bulk is injected into Sydney. At the Council Drop-In Kiosk they have hurriedly installed in a hope that they can offset the disquiet that is now building in the leadup to next week's public meeting one of the councillors admitted that Council would not be adding any funds on top of any grant monies received. This means that the combined performance space/pool project will be built solely on what ever funds are received. The consultant estimated the project that was put forward would be in the vicinity of $46m and it is anticipated that, when announced in three weeks time (as advised by our friendly kiosk councillor) the sum will be considerably less. This raises the question: How does Council instruct an architect to design a pool and performance space without first knowing the budget available and also how does Council expect to "extend the facilities" if the architect is not briefed that that extension includes a 50m pool sometime when the community grows in capacity to justify it. Many are now starting to ask "If we have a functioning 50m pool then why are we ripping it up when we could be building around it to include it in the new pool arrangement and why are we building a performance space when we have a playhouse already and Council is already building a regional art gallery in Moruya with State government and private funding? One of the interesting side stories to all of this is that Council staff snuck in a procedure without the endorsement of councillors (because it was an operational matter) that allows them to cease communication with anyone they determine as a "pain in the arse". The structure of the policy came from the OLG and was based on a document on how to ensure the safety of staff from the "difficult" public who might become untoward. Council added their own perspective on this and have now used that added-to policy to close down the string of information requests from the Save the 50m Pool group seeking to find answers to a host of questions around the Mackay Park project; from requesting engineering reports to supporting financial projections, evidence of consultation and minutes of the Sunset Committee that all remain secret. All correspondence on these matters must now go through the General Manager and it at her discretion whether she responds all not. It could be asked "are they closing down the dissidents or are they closing down the issue? might have wished for as spruiked as the the mandate of most of the councillors who were elected. Such is the failure on their parts to penetrate the Cone of Silence that continues to exist and such is the control being shown by the bureaucracy that the councillors are little more than limp puppets having delegated all of their roles and functions to the general manager and her staff. As to the acquisition of the Batemans Bay Bowling club site. Remember here that the Councillors also delegated all dealings in regards to the purchase of the Bowling Club site to the General Manager. At the time of purchase staff admitted that they had not conducted a financial report of the economic benefits of the purchase nor had they undertaken a risk assessment on the investment.
Above: it is more than evident that Council had no intended use for the site. They bought it because it was available and the negotiations had started well before giving Council ample time to have a valuation done yet they chose not to. How did the property come to be sold at $1.2m over its valuation when the buildings were in a condition that staff now consider irrecoverable to the point where they won't allow a public inspection as it is too dangerous yet we learn the RMS are to use the building for administration during their bridge project . Remember that Councillor Rob Pollock moved, in a council meeting August 29th, that: Council make a decision on the potential demolition of the former Batemans Bay Bowling Club building once a decision is made on the development of the Mackay Park Precinct.
At the time of seeking Councillors accord to spend $2.7m on the purchase Council staff also did not advise the councillors that they would be purchasing the property with a $2m loan. When asked why it was being purchased staff were not able to give the councillors any reason other than that it was available for purchase and would be of benefit to Council to own it. Basically Council speculated that there might be a potential saying it was a "financially responsible investment into the future of Batemans Bay and the shire" and did so without any financial risk assessment or current valuation purchase a landlocked parcel of land that was knowingly $1.5m over priced.
Note the date of the valuation. 22/09/2016 - 5 months after Council bought it for $2.7m
Council have agreed to rent it to the RMS while the new bridge is being built with the rental paying for the interest on the $2m loan. The Mayor advised the Sunset Committee in December 2017 that the RMS wanted the site and will rent it for the three to four years of the life of the construction of the new bridge. The greens will be used for machinery and some of the inside for administrative offices. The mayor, also at the last Sunset Committee meeting (via a leaked report) listed the reasons why Council is no longer seeking a PPP. It is understood that Council will look to sell the property when the bridge project is completed. Next I will begin to look at Council's determination to sell off the Visitor Information Centre and the Batemans Bay Community Centre. The community centre will be interesting as it has a long and detailed history that starts back when the community centre was located in Orient Street in the middle of town opposite the Bayview Hotel and Council ... sold it knowing full well that the land and the building were owned by the community. There was considerable knocking of heads after this and in the end Council found land down near the water gardens and built a community centre with SOME of the money they had from the sale of the community owned land. Now they intend to sell the building and land and give the community a few rooms and a tea area in the new Mackay Park development. Let's see how that pans out. Fortunately we have great curators of knowledge in the community with vast wads of files to draw on as evidence of history. If you have questions or would like confirmation of any of the above duck along to either the Council kiosk or to the 50m Save the Pool Kiosk at the Village Centre on Monday.
"What a gateway we could have to Batemans Bay if we could get rid of that 50m pool"