Councillors beginning to panic over Mackay Park blowout and ongoing costs.This doesn't auger well for them just nine months out from a Local Government election on September 4th. Ratepayers are also starting to wake up to the fact that every single one of them will be paying for the $20 million cost blowout at the new Mackay Park pool in Batemans Bay. It is inevitable that the financial burden will impact the services Council provides and already there is talk of winding back reconstructions and scheduled maintenance of Council assets to save some dollars. Council's revenue has also been hit hard by the reduction of income from its fees and charges due to Covid however there has been a boost to the coffers by way of bushfire and Covid grants. In all it would be surprising if Council was not financially impacted as it approaches its 2020/2021 budget. One budget item that will be getting a lot of attention will be the Mackay Park Aquatic Centre. How did a $46 million pool in 2017 become a $70 million pool in 2020? At one point we had $51 million to pay for a $46 million pool and 500 seat theatre. A councilor even said that Council wouldn't be adding a single dollar to the facility. But something happened. The building got bigger. So big in fact it consumed the Mini Golf and forced councillors to payout $600,000 on the the remaining lease. What happened to the first plan that said the mini-golf could stay? Who exactly is responsible for adding $20 million more to the building? Was it a decision of councillors or council staff. The Council keep telling us the business plan for the Mackay Park Centre is on their website. That business plan is outdated. The costs are outdated and the projected incomes come with a warning that they are not to be used for anything other than as a rough guide. This leads to the question "Who exactly is in charge of the numbers?" The project has blown out $20 million with that to come from ratepayers pockets. Council have clearly declared that "This facility, when built, will be no different to the variety of public assets across the Shire, where all ratepayers contribute to their ongoing maintenance and general upkeep." "All ratepayers to contribute to the ongoing maintenance and general upkeep ??". But how much is that and how much more will that be on top of the $20 million that ratepayers will have to find? Council are not saying, declaring it "Commercial in Confidence". What we do know is that Council are now panicking. They need money and lots of it because they have got themselves in over their heads to the tune of $20 million (and climbing) plus an estimated $3 million a year to run the new Mackay Park Centre, including depreciation. We have already seen them floundering with a recent kneejerk attempt to gain more revenue by deciding to lease out the Batemans Bay Community Centre to a local Housing Agency. Already that is unravelling as it is revealed that the agency won't be paying market rental. The expected revenue fail, at the cost of disruption to the community and initiating community anger, is already looking to be a massive failure, both economically and politically. Council will, however, push on with the leasing and intended sale of the Batemans Bay Community Centre and Batemans Bay Information Centre (to close in Feb 2021) and add these sales to the Moruya Racecourse Sale and the Southern Phone dividends to help pay the massive shortfall of the edifice they have now created. There is also panic in the ranks as the speculated income from the gymnasium is in doubt. Council decided it would double the size of the gymnasium to 1000m2 in a hope that it might invite a multinational franchise to lease the space for a considerable fee. Council failed though to acknowledge that Batemans Bay already had six gyms of various standards. Staying true to their own interests Council pressed on regardless and are hoping desperately that the leasing of their gym space might aid their failing bottom line. Adding to the mix Council were aware that the Bay Push group, behind the wonderful all-abilities Variety Park at Corrigans Beach, had intentions of adding a free all-abilities water park to their facility. Council saw the water park as a possible money earner and moved full tilt into adding such a facility to their new Mackay Park facility. Initially it was to be added as a second stage however, most likely due to the realisation of the income shortfalls of the Mackay Centre, the waterslide has now been added. Council determined it did not want to manage the new Centre and has put out to tender the management of the whole facility, being cafe, pools, theatre and meeting rooms. It was due to this calling for tenders that Council insisted any information around projected operational costs and projected incomes remain "commercial in confidence". It is not just the community who are now concerned around the affordability of the new Mackay Park complex. The Council's General Manager advised The Beagle, when asked, that she did not provide councillors with correspondence from the Office of Local Government that indicated their concerns around the perceived demand for the Mackay Park centre and its financial capacity to service the running costs into the future. The OLG letter, received on July 1st 2020, was NOT made available to councillors prior to their July 28th, 2020 vote and only came to light weeks after following a GIPA request that also revealed that Council staff reluctantly provided the Office of Local Government with an out of date business plan, only doing so under the insistence of the OLG in order to comply with regulations. Eurobodalla Council's report to councillors only quoted a single line from the OLG letter saying "OLG's Assessment concluded that Council's review meets the relevant criteria of the Guidelines" that, to a councillor or member of the public, would be construed as approval. Councillors were NOT advised of the second paragraph from that same letter:
Note: Failing to advise the Councillors is considered a BREACH OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT ACT and an Official Code of Conduct complaint has been lodged with the Office of Local Government awaiting their determination The section of the Act below sets out the functions of the General Manager. LOCAL GOVERNMENT ACT 1993 - SECT 335 Functions of general manager (in part) The general manager of a council has the following functions-- (f) to ensure that the mayor and other councillors are given timely information and advice and the administrative and professional support necessary to effectively discharge their functions, Unfortunately for the community not a single Councillor made protest when the fact that the OLG letter outlining its concerns had been withheld from them. Further reading HERE The question remains "What will Council do to meet the ever burgeoning deficit that is, and will be, the Mackay Park Centre?" Mayor Fergus Thomson first had the vision of something low key, a Gateway complex that met community demands and affordability. Mayor Lindsay Brown had bigger dreams and saw the chance of a public private deal that would see the old Batemans Bay Bowling Club transformed into a multi functional high rise with a bus terminal, heated pool, community facilities, offices and tourism accommodation. And then came the big switcheroo of 2017 - to have a consultant write a Eurobodalla Aquatic Strategy that would remove the 50m pool forever and build in its place an unaffordable edifice filled with false promises, deceptions, compromises, subterfuge, resentment and broken dreams. All nicely wrapped under a veil of political pork barrelling.