The Beagle Editor, In light of receiving a response from Council on the 21st February to my letter of 4 February, on behalf of OTOS I received this gem: “For future reference Council’s Customer Service Policy provides for council to respond to enquiries within 10 working days, and for ease of tracking, all correspondence should be forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org ”I responded by inviting the author to ask the Mayor’s personal handler of correspondence when I may expect a response to my letter of 23 January 2019. Having read the article by Zoe Cartwright, reporting for the Bay Post/Moruya Examiner (21st January , 2019) I wrote the following letter to the Mayor that Beagle readers might find of interest. KEY QUESTIONS: BATEMANS BAY 50 METRE POOL
Dear Councillor Innes,
Before commenting on the regurgitation of supposed facts from Council by Zoe Cartwright, reporting for the Bay Post/Moruya Examiner (23 January), I pose the following, to you and your General Manager:
“Eurobodalla Shire Council recognises that community input is important in order for proposals and projects to reflect local needs.”
This entirely appropriate statement appears (verbatim) on the Eurobodalla Shire Council website in relation to public submissions. Council’s recent decision to exclude members of OTOS from providing community input to NBRS Architecture, regarding the need for a 50-metre pool, proves that this statement is just empty rhetoric. Significant input is available, garnered by way of three well-attended meetings in 2018, each with an average of approximately 100 community members.
Q1: How do you justify excluding OTOS from providing input to the architects?
In your letter to me dated 5 June 2018, you stated that:
“No community members are being ignored in the process of planning for this important community asset.”
Q2: How do you balance that statement against the obvious and intentional exclusion of OTOS members from consultations with NBRS Architecture?
I am reliably informed that Council’s Request for Expressions of Interest (No:2018/PLS034, dated February 2018) included the following statement, with respect to the Facility Components: “ ….the design process should include consideration of alternative component options such as: “….provision of a 25m by 25m (10 lane pool)” and “….design that allows for future expansion of facilities.”
Since you were personally saved from an embarrassing Code of Conduct complaint outcome last year, purely based on the semantic difference between “should” and “must”, we must surely apply the same rules here.
Prospective tenderers for the design of the new centre were only advised that they “should” include provision of a 25m by 25m pool. They were not obliged or told that they “must” do so - or were they told this behind the scenes? If not, it would appear therefore, that the design could also have included consideration of a 50m pool, perhaps as Option D, for community consideration? If a 25m x 25m pool is presented as an alternative, to what, precisely, is it an alternative? After all, Council’s estimate of the cost of the new facility overall, was “$46m” – given away in the Background section of the EoI. Yet, Council’s own media releases in late 2018 indicated that Council fully expects to receive more than $51m, once its outstanding federal funding grant application is approved. It appears that you have the money – otherwise you have made much ado about nothing, with a distinctly political purpose in mind.
Q3: Where is the visual evidence in concepts A, B & C, from NBRS Architecture, that the stated requirement, to allow for future expansion, has been met? If not visual, what other evidence has been delivered with the successful tender documents and when will this evidence be exposed to the community?
Q4: If the requirement has not been met, why not?
Q5: Why not build what is needed, and what is obviously affordable now, based on strong community feedback over many years, rather than build what ideologically driven executives within Council think should be provided?
Recent reportage in the Bay Post on 23rd January leaves me very concerned that the reporter may have swallowed a bait casually dangled by “a council spokesperson” with regard to the construction and operating costs of a 50 metre pool, as opposed to the 25 metre pool currently included in concepts A, B & C from NBRS Architecture.
The “estimate” of $6.5m extra to build and $300,000 extra per year to run a 50m pool, rather than a 25m pool, can have come from no other source than the OTIUM Planning Group Final Draft Report dated August 2017. In that document, we find that: “….the additional capital cost is substantial (estimated at $6.5m)” and “...it would incur higher operating costs and deficits (estimated at between $260,000 and $305,000pa…”)
OTOS has seen no evidence that OTIUM’s “estimate” has ever been challenged or analysed by Council, yet it has been parroted ever since, as has OTIUM’s statement that: “there is limited market for traditional 50m pools.” As revealed by the pool survey of 128 councils, conducted by OTOS in 2018, (the results were forwarded to you) the latter statement, parroted with little or no serious thought, is overstated at best and deceptive at worst. Obviously it suits the stance taken by senior Council bureaucrats, with your endorsement, for the non-inclusion of a 50m pool in the new aquatic complex.
OTOS provided Council with an alternative written “estimate” by experienced pool builders Hutchinson in 2017, suggesting that the difference in capital cost would only be in the order of $2m (worst case). Perhaps the true additional cost lies somewhere between these two estimates? Did Council not think that a $4m potential saving was worth investigating? Serendipitously, Council now appears to have secured adequate funding from several sources and should certainly be congratulated for having done so.
Q6: Why is Council not reconsidering its decision not to include a 50m pool?
The Bay Post reporter Zoe Cartwright must be commended for seeing through the scare tactics of “a council spokesperson” and for doing her own sums. We read that Eurobodalla Shire Council collected approximately $61m in rates in 2018. The quoted increase in running costs of $300,000 for a 50m pool therefore would amount to a reallocation of only 0.49% of that total, which is surely possible, if Council puts its mind to the task.
Twenty-five cents, per ratepayer, per week? – Count me in! - it probably costs ratepayers 10 times that amount currently, to fund Council’s morning teas, overseas study tours, retreats and Executives’ novated car leases! As a good citizen, I pay more than that, each time I leave a trailer load of green waste at Council’s Surf Beach recycling facility! Better perspective and relativity is required, regardless of any previous statements of the Eurobodalla Ratepayers Association, on whose platform you were elected. It is not good enough to say: “…it is unlikely that all ratepayers would be happy to foot the bill.” How would you know, if you’ve never asked them and when ARE all ratepayers happy to pay their rates bill?
Q7: Why is Council not prepared to put it to Eurobodalla ratepayers, that an increase of …”$12 per rateable property per year” is worthwhile and indeed justifiable, in order to renew ageing community infrastructure at Batemans Bay and to maintain a world class aquatic/arts facility, including an Olympic swimming pool, all of which will attract considerably more tourist and resident dollars to the town and the region?
With regard to pool user numbers, apparently provided to the reporter by the same “council spokesperson”, we can also turn to OTIUM’s Aquatic Strategy dated February 2017 for guidance and some comparison.
In relation to their report, OTIUM stated that:
“It identifies the potential catchments for each of Council’s three pools. The potential populations for each pool were listed as:
Batemans Bay Pool = 18,000 (45% of the total)
Moruya Pool = 12,000 (30% of the total)
Narooma Pool = 10,000” (25% of the total)
Bracketed figures are mine.
Further, we find the following reportage of usage “estimates” (because OTIUM reported that “..accurate usage statistics had not been collected in recent year [sic]….”):
68,260 visits per annum, which translated to an average use of 305 per day.”
(this pool is only open for 32 weeks a year);
78,224 visits per annum which translated to an average visitation of 310 per day.” (this pool is open seasonally from August to early April – about 36 weeks)***
37,440 visits per annum, which translated to 101 per day.”
(this pool is open year-round.)
*** From the above figures, it is evident that OTIUM has divided the annual attendance
estimate by the number of weeks open, divided by 7, to get daily attendance estimates. Thus, they must have used 36 weeks for Moruya and 52 for Narooma.
Taken forward over 5 years, such estimates would suggest a pool visitor total of around 919,620. This is a far cry from the figure of 478,410 for five years provided to the reporter as published in the Bay Post as “In the past five years, 478,410 people visited our pools,” the council said.
Q8: How can these figures be reconciled and how reliable are “council spokesperson” attendance figures for: “.. the last 5 years”, as recently provided?
Mixing of “estimates” with recorded pool attendances of doubtful accuracy is fraught with the risk of inaccurate projections. Furthermore it is worthy of further investigation, as to why the actual visitor percentages for Batemans Bay and Narooma are now almost exactly swapped, compared to what OTIUM presented when analysing pool catchments in 2017
Batemans Bay 24% actual now versus 45% projected catchment, then;
Moruya 31% actual now versus 30% projected catchment, then; and
Narooma 45% actual now versus 25% projected catchment, then.
Actual pool attendances should surely be broadly reflective of the percentage catchments identified by OTIUM in 2017. Not so – Moruya is close to the mark but how did OTIUM get it so completely wrong for Narooma and Batemans Bay? What else is wrong in their concept documents?
Q9: Has the “council spokesperson” used reliable figures when informing the reporter and, given the OTIUM statement of 2017 on accurate usage statistics, is Council now mixing earlier inaccurate figures with more accurate recent ones?
It is not possible to compare the two total usage figures on an annual basis, since it has not been revealed if Council’s recent figures have been consistent for each of the five years mentioned, i.e. about 95,680 per annum. Nor does a 5-year total figure reveal any increase or drop-off in pool usage in specific periods. The 2017 statement by OTIUM regarding the keeping of accurate statistics also adds further doubt to any current total, proffered two years later, for a 5-year period that includes the period covered by OTIUM’s observation. Councillor, you would be familiar with the oft-quoted work of Benjamin Disraeli, who is credited with saying: “There are three types of lies – lies, damn lies, and statistics.” In providing recent figures (statistics?) to the Bay Post reporter, we trust that the “deep throat” within Council has not strayed into any of these categories. Indeed, it must be the intention and stance of Council at all times, to ensure that members of the community are not misled by inaccurate information. Q10: May OTOS please have your personal assurance that you strongly support and encourage that intention and stance? On behalf of the OTOS group, I look forward to prompt answers to the questions I have posed in this letter. Yours Sincerely John Mobbs for Our Towns Our Say