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Pool funding: Ratepayer affordability: Show us your numbers first

This week has seen Eurobodalla Council come under scrutiny over its business case that will prove the proposed Batemans Bay Aquatic Centre and Performance Space will actually be affordable in the long run for Eurobodalla residents. Following a qualified media release from Ann Sudmalis, member for Gilmore, that stated that Eurobodalla Shire Council have been invited to submit their full Business Case for assessment under the Australian Government’s Regional Growth Fund the Eurobodalla Mayor, Liz Innes said in her own media release said “I’m certain Council’s strong and affordable business case that focuses on meeting the broadest community needs and our commitment to the project have impressed the Federal government.” Serious questions around that business case were asked at Tuesday's Council meeting around the broad assumptions made, the fact that the Eurobodalla Aquatic Strategy that drove the business plan was, as yet, unendorsed, and that there was a shortfall annually of $2m in losses and depreciation that came with no indication that the residents and ratepayers of the Shire would not be further burdened by rate rises to cover the blowouts. It was also revealed this week that at Senate Estimates hearings the Gilmore MP's statement that she was "Proud to announce $25 million for the Batemans Bay Arts and Aquatic Centre." may have been somewhat premature because at this stage, no money has been awarded by the Australian government for this project.

During the Rural & Regional Affairs & Transport committee government officials revealed that the Batemans Bay Arts and Aquatic Centre project had progressed to the second stage of a two stage approvals process - in essence the program had been "shortlisted to go to second stage", and the second stage "will be the point at which we do our value for money assessment and put a recommendation to fund the projects to the minister", said Ms Marie Taylor, Executive Director, Regional Development and Local Government. By her own admission in an interview (below) with Simon Lauder of ABC South East (Oct 24th) Mayor Innes said "One of the problems that we do always have to struggle with of course is that when the State funds infrastructure projects then effectively that are handed over to council to maintain into the future. Now that can be a little bit problematic as far as budgeting and does put pressures on Council's budget but none the less that is not a reason for us not to go ahead with vital pieces of infrastructure".

Above: Eurobodalla Mayor Liz Innes speaking with Simon Lauder of ABC South East Radio October 24th, 2018 Whilst the Mayor was talking about the issues around the Batemans Bay foreshore improvements following the building of the new bridge this same response has been heard across the board for several years as justification for not pursuing grants for new infrastructure as it commits Council to find funds it doesn't have to then maintain and renew that asset. It is this very response that continues to press council for a far more accurate business plan that the broad brush one given to it by its consultants for use in first round discussions for grant approvals. Councillors this week were reminded that their consultant made a very clear statement in their Aquatic and Arts/ Cultural Precinct Business Case (page 38). It should be noted that the financial model does not incorporate sensitivity analysis or depreciation at this stage. This will be done after the base case assumptions and preferred design option have been approved by Council. Further, once the preferred design option and financial modelling has been approved and finalised, an assessment of the economic impact of the facility SHOULD be undertaken by Council to support any applications for external funding. Council have now been formally asked to advise if they are now preparing a revised Aquatic and Arts/ Cultural Precinct Business Case as requested by the Member for Bega, Andrew Constance in November 2017 and as advised by consultants while now also required by the Australian Regional Growth Fund. They have also been asked if that business case will be available to be scrutinised by the community before it is lodged in the next Round? Editors Note: Mayor Liz Innes has indicated that Council will provide answers to the questions raised in this presentation. When Council does those answers will be published in The Beagle.

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