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How much will it cost to go to the new Bay Pool? No-one knows.

In the last Council report our councillors were presented with the Draft Fees and Charges for 2021-2022. Their task was to approve the motion that the Delivery Program 2017-22 and Operational Plan 2021-22 that includes the Draft Fees and Charges be put out to the public for comment for 28 days to make a submission. At the end of the public exhibition period councillors will then be provided with all submissions for consideration prior to its adoption by 30 June 2021. Dr Catherine Dale, Council's General Manager said in her report of April 27th that the Operational Plan (including the Fees and Charges) "details the actions to be undertaken during the next financial year and includes the annual budget and fees and charges for the year ahead." Of interest to The Beagle is the fees and charges Council plans to put in place for the new Bay pool. On Council's Batemans Bay Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre website it says that 'the centre is due to open in early 2022'. That being the case one would imagine the entry fees for the pool would be included in Council's 2021-2022 Fees and Charges in readiness for the opening. In having them listed it would also give the community the opportunity to put in submissions around any proposed fee. The only mention of Swimming Pool fees for 2021-2022 was the following:

From the above it would appear that the universal casual entry, general swimming fee for Moruya, Narooma and Batemans Bay pool is $5.90. While this is possibly good news for the Batemans Bay residents it will also come as a surprise as the community were led to believe that a much higher entry fee was to be expected under Council's Business Case for the new Mackay Park pool. In that August 2017 Business Case (for Option 1 - a $48 million facility) Otium stated Desire for activities to be affordable. The development of multi-purpose aquatic leisure centres has enabled high operating costs to be cross subsidised by more profitable activity areas such as health and fitness, food and beverage and entertainment areas. This has enabled many facilities to keep general entry fees low to encourage use. In their Business Plan of 2017 Otium projected that the annual income expected in the first year of the pool being opened would be $1,090,349 extending out to $1,701,902 in the tenth year. This was based on the assumption that in the first year there would be 127,276 visitors coming through the turnstyles to visit the aquatic section of the new facility (not including a further 23,000 predicted to attend the Health and Fitness classes) The prediction by Otium was that the 126,276 patrons to the Aquatic area would contribute $1,090,349. This calculates at $8.63 per visit being paid by the 345 swimmers expected every day of the year. The other fees not listed in the Draft Fees and Charges are the entrance fees for the new 1000m2 gymnasium or the theatre space that is also meant to double as community space after Council sells off the Batemans Bay Community Centre. So why wouldn't these fees be present for the community to consider? In March 2020 Council adopted a Contract Fee for Service model to manage operations at the proposed Batemans Bay Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre. Council agreed to undertake a tender process to appoint an external contractor to manage the Batemans Bay Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre under a Fee for Service contract model and that the contract length of the Fee for Service model to manage operations at the new Batemans Bay Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre be five years with a review period after the first three years. In August 2019, councillors were briefed on the financial modelling developed by Otium Planning Group for various management model options. The key findings were baselined on the same number of projected visits and income over a ten-year period. The key findings showed the hybrid management model of Public/Private had a significant ten-year operating loss when compared to a contract management option. Given the significant financial differential, the hybrid model was removed from any further consideration. The Otium Business case said of the Contract Management model that it "allows for minimal financial risk by council as a set contract fee would be paid to an operator. The advantages are that council minimises its risk but can set a series of key performance indicators in the contractual arrangements to ensure that its requirements are met. The potential disadvantage is that the operator is usually a commercial entity and as such, the primary purpose of the venue as a community facility may not always be the governing decision-making premise. Community access and activities may not be optimised due the level of fees and charges or investment in new and developmental work." As a possible inducement to an interested tenderer Council also agreed in March 2020 that they "should also consider the potential to have the Moruya and Narooma pools managed under the management model adopted for the BBRAALC", saying that "this has the potential to deliver greater efficiencies through economies of scale, consistency in service delivery and program options for Council and the community. The benefits of this option can be explored via the tender process by requesting a response to the management of the BBRAALC and a response to managing all three centres." Since the Motion put forward by Councillor Lindsay Brown and Councillor Jack Tait was put (For the Motion: Crs L Brown, P Constable, M Nathan, R Pollock, J Tait and J Thomson. Against the Motion: Crs A Mayne and P McGinlay.) Tait that Council adopt a Contract Fee for Service model to manage operations at the proposed Batemans Bay Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre we have heard nothing. In over a year there has not been a single mention of any winning tenderer. Eurobodalla Council are usually the first to celebrate such news but on this front there has been total silence. One might assume there were no tenderers. Given that they would have been privvy to the Council's business case and Otiums income projections they too may have seen that some of the figures were questionable such as the predicted 38,720 patrons to the theatre generating $286,414 in the first year with an expected 12 productions over 12 months. Keeping in mind that this original projection was for a 500 seat theatre and not the 350 seat theatrette we now have we are even further from the projection of twelve sell out performances of 500 attendees every night for six nights in a row paying $7.30 per ticket. Any difficulty in finding a Venue Manager over the last year may well have been made more difficult in the time of Covid, especially when even the Office of Local Government warned our Council, soon to embark on committing $19 million of rate payers money to the pool/theatre project saying on 13th July 2020 "OLG notes that, factoring in all costs, the built facility is projected to operate at a loss for the first 10 years of operation. Council must be satisfied of the community demand for the facility, as proposed, and the ability to subsidise the facility from the General Fund. Council should also consider the potential adverse effect of the current COVID-19 pandemic on the projected revenue of both the built facility and Council." It is little wonder that this information was not conveyed to Councillors by the General Manager, and not included in the report they were provided prior to their vote of $19 million of community funds towards the $70 million State and Federally funded project. It is certainly not the type of formal opinion you would want out in the general public or read by any prospective Leasing Management. Council have done all they can, and continue to block public GIPA requests for access to the financial Business Cases they claim to have that may have been provided to such agencies as OLG and to potential Management tenderers. The last correspondence (Dec 8, 2020) received from Council regarding the GIPA request for financial details stated: In responding to the previous access Application, Council identified an overriding public interest against disclosure of some of the requested financial information. The overriding public interest consideration against disclosure of that information remains relevant while tender processes are yet to be concluded for the appointment of contractors relating to the BBRAALC, and while grant funding payments for the BBRAALC project remain forthcoming. However, after all tender processes are concluded, contractors are appointed, and all grant funding agreements and payments have been finalised, the overriding public interest against disclosure of the financial information will no longer be relevant. This might now explain why the fees and charges for the new Batemans Bay pool, gym and theatrette have not been included in the Draft Fees and Charges, because they will be determined by the contracted Facility Management who will set their prices based on a for-profit model.

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