We recently bought you an editorial that drew a comparison between the Batemans Bay Aquatic centre and a Tibetan Mastiff puppy.
From the outset both look like fun and the fact that the puppy was free and gifted by both the State and Federal government to the community is a bonus. So the promise of this puppy arriving on Eurobodalla's doorstep one day soon is making many excited. The Mayor and her councillors are more than excited but also a little concerned as they will be the ones who will have to feed it and cover vet fees, grooming costs, kennel fees when required and generally support the dog for the term of its natural life. The problem here is that they are speculating that they will be able to raise funds to do this by charging people to come and see the dog and to pat it. Initially they might come in curious numbers but then as always, those numbers will inevitably fall. That means Council will have to dip into the bucket of money that had allocated for other stuff like libraries and roads and playgrounds. "I went to a new zoo the other day, all they had was a dog... it was a shitzu." OK, down to business. Fortunately the Federal Government has said it will give $26m for the $51m project pretty much matching the State Government contribution. This means the good folk of Eurobodalla receive a brand new pool and performance space valued at $51m for free. But is it free? From the day it opens it has to cover its own running costs and the consultants have already estimated that it will lose $2m per year, every year, for the first ten years at least. But the State and Federal government won't cover this. They gave the puppy for free but that was it ... no food, no toys, no vet fees and no grooming. So the community are lumbered with this cost that has to come from somewhere.... Councillors, are you reading this ????? Fortunately there is a hold point that brings some sanity to the Federal gift of $26m - they require a Full Business Case. The Beagle obtained a copy of the template under Freedom of Information (FOI) that the Council will have to fill in to qualify. You can access the Full Business Case template HERE and the Regional Growth grant guidelines HERE In our opinion it is pretty light on in asking the VERY BIG question of how the community will pay for the maintenance, management and inevitable replacement of the facility once it is built. ie running costs and depreciation. Both of these are going to place a major impost on the already stretched ratepayer that sees Council once again foreshadowing a rate increase above CPI to cover its ever increasing infrastructure backlogs. The Mayor has clearly stated that she will not allow a rate increase in this term of council however this term only has less than two years remaining. The Full Business case for the Federal grant of $26m is due to be lodged in the next thirty days. Once lodged The Beagle will be seeking a copy to determine if Council have factored into the case how it plans to feed "the beast" from its rate base without adding further burden to its ratepayers or taking services away. If the Full Business case is accepted by the Federal Government without consideration of the financial burden of the new facility then Regional Growth will be challenged on its irresponsibility of offering a gift that can not be afforded. The Eurobodalla Mayor and the Director of Infrastructure have both said on many an occasion that they do not readily pursue grants for new infrastructure as these grants do not come with any ongoing maintenance funding. Yet Council now seems to have forgotten their mantra of economic rationalism on this occasion and are moving full steam ahead on a project that is already roughly costed at losing $2m per year based on questionable figures and flawed income projections. No doubt the Audit and Risk Committee under the scrutiny of Councillor Phil Constable and the newly elected Councillor Lindsay Brown will be calling for a full report on the economic risks to the ratepayer of Council pursuing such a complex that many believe the community can not afford. The original brief was for a heated therapy pool which has now blown out into an all encompassing visitor information centre, aquatic leisure centre, art gallery, kiosk, meeting room, gymnasium and theatre There is little doubt that both Councillors Mayne and McGinlay, each experienced in auditing and both possessing a tenacity to be open and transparent, would insist on such a report and that the element of financial burden and consequence on the ratepayer into the future would be a prerequisite of accepting any grant to build a new facility knowing full well that its ongoing costs will need to be budgeted for from an ever diminishing bucket of ratepayer money.