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Editorial: Mind the Gap

Welcome to this week’s Editorial

This week we discovered that there is most likely a ‘Gap’ in how much money the community has to build its new aquatic and leisure centre and how much it will actually cost.

Debate in the Council chamber was at times fractious with comments such as wanting it to be a legacy facility rather than a legacy liability.

The Councillors had heard three presenters during Public Forum (now blocked for community viewing by Councillors) with one presenter offering sage advice based on forty years of private sector management of over 600 staff, 17 statewide stores and a budget above and beyond that of Council. His presentation was succinct, evidence based and delivered in a way that made clear that the Council’s business plan (that is now strictly confidential) was of concern. Rather than take on such sagely advice he was basically attacked by a one-time shopkeeper who had the audacity to ask him if he was confident in his extrapolations.

Fortunately Councillors McGinlay, Constable and Mayne understood exactly what the speaker was saying.

Over the course of the debate as to whether to endorse the latest plan so that it could proceed to Development Application and tender it was made clear that the Councillors were very much aware of how much Concept D would cost. They admitted that two reputable Quantity Surveyors had arrived at virtually the same cost to construct and this figure was referred to as ‘X’. The Gap.

With $51m for the project and having spent a further $4m to date on plans, consultants, etc the report to Councillors advising them that the current budget might not be enough to provide the facility and that there may well have to be compromises made raised questions of fiscal responsibility with Councillor Mayne suggesting that he felt the facility had already been compromised in what it had to offer.

The comment by Councillor Nathan that things are handled differently by the public sector compared to the private sector also irked those listening when she said “they find it very difficult to understand the differences between transparency, accountability and confidentiality.”

The community have an expectation of transparency, accountability and confidentiality when it applies. In the case of Council now determining that it will not reveal how many people are expected to go through turnstiles, attend the gymnasium, the café, the theatre and the pools raises considerable mistrust. Those figures contribute to projected income. The previously revealed business case fell apart under scrutiny as did the projected costs which are now also not available.

The bottom line in all of this is that the $51m in grants held by Council for the project appear now to not be enough to deliver the broader expectations of the community and that they need to put the now adopted plans through the Development Application process and call for tenders to determine what they can in fact “buy” for $51m. At that point they will know what they need to trim off in the way of facilities to meet the budget or come back with a plan that will either see the sale of more council assets to pay for ‘The Gap’, a rationalising of provision of council services such as paring down of replacements or maintenance. The last consideration that would be available is to seek a rate variation.

The Mayor, Liz Innes, has only given a certainty that there would be no rate increase in this term of office however that has less that 12 months to go and the intentions of the next Council under a different mayor are unknown.

Councillor Mayne offered that there are known knowns and unknown unknowns (possibly referring to the unknown of geo-technics associated with the site as encountered by the nearby sites of the new bridge and the Village Plaza). Of concern to him was that Council is refusing to publicly state what ’The Gap’ is even though they know the figure and they are not engaging in any communication with the community to discuss what they might allow to deal with ‘The Gap’. Rather than sell the Batemans Bay Community Centre that is operative, fit for purpose and well utilised the community might instead consider other options or might even decide to rationalise the size of the proposed gymnasium as there was no market demand for one with six others in the immediate area.

“Moving ahead with the DA is the cart before the horse” adding that “we have to get the finance right”.. Because if we get this aspect wrong in the finances it hurts for a long time”

Pithily one councillor offered the suggestion that when the figures come in “It is possible to give the money back” ignoring the fact that Council has already borrow in the order of $4m to date on the project. Much to the hilarity of the gallery it was suggested that Councillors could go to Mogo and pan for gold to make up the shortfall.

Council state that they are at a point where to remove any further components will compromise the project. They are also optimistic that the paring down they have done will either keep them under the $51m or at least present little in the way of ‘Gap’.

At the end of the day they want us to Trust them and allow them to just get on with it. Unfortunately if it fails financially each and all of us will have to reach further into already moth eaten pockets to pay for their vision that is looking less and less like ‘our vision’ every day.

Until next, Lei

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