Long before the recent revelations that Council has been holding back financial details around the projected incomes and expenditures of the new $71 million Batemans Bay Pool the community had already warned them of their concerns. The most recent concerns, raised by Councillor Phil Constable before voting on a tender for the pool, that would commit $19 million of ratepayers money, should have raised alarm bells with all the councillors however his motion to defer the vote until a report could be obtained from Council's Audit and Risk committee fell on deaf ears and his peers voted it down 6 to 3. It appears that Clr Constable's concerns were justified because, unaware that the time, the general Manager was in receipt of a letter from the Office of Local Government who also noted their concerns around the demand for the facility and Council's ability to subsidise the facility from the General Fund. Councillors were advised that the Audit and Risk Committee was not privy to all of the financial information and would not be able to provide a thorough report as they were not allowed access to documents considered "Commercial in Confidence". Councillor Constable also dispelled any question that there was a second Business Case by saying the only Business Case was the Otium one.
AUDIO: Ordinary Meeting of Eurobodalla Council Date: 28 July 2020
Clr Constable closing debate to defer vote until report from Audit Committee re Mackay Park pool tender
Last week it was revealed that the Information Privacy Commissioner considered Council's retention of financial documents sought under a GIPA request as "unjustified". While Council have verbally intimated that they have updated projections of incomes and expenditures the Mayor continues to advise the public that the business case is available for all to see on Council's website. The one she refers to is the Otium Business Case - it is the only one on the website. In a letter to the Office Of Local Government Council dated 1 May 2020 Council reluctantly provided a copy of the BBRAALC operating costs April 2020 along with an SGS extract saying it provided "the economic modelling undertaken early in the project" and adding "I still believe that modelling is valid although the costs of the centre has changed." The letter providing the information reiterated Council's concerns over the financial information being made pubic by saying "Can I please stress again, the sensitivities associated with these documents, as we do not want to have our tender process for the management of the new centre compromised in anyway." The latest determination by the Information Privacy Commissioner over Council's retention of these two documents, sought by formal GIPA, as "unjustified" serves to only add further alarm bells to the community that all appropriate checks and balances have been carried out over the long term affordability of the project. As far back as 29 August 2017 the Councillors were asked to apply due diligence to the financial viability and potential burden of the Mackay Park Precinct project with one presenter to Council saying " While it would be fantastic for Batemans Bay and the rest of the Shire to have the proposed development complete with a 50 metre pool, I urge you, please, to not decide to proceed before you are fully aware of the likely one-time and ongoing costs involved."
The Mackay Park Precinct that crosses the highway to include the potential redevelopment of the old petrol station and the now defunct Batemans Bay Visitors Centre still has no plan or vision. Current speculation is that the petrol station has sold to a well known billionaire with suggestions of a Canberra developer building a high rise apartment block. Further speculation centres around rumours that Council are currently in discussions with a prospective buyer for the old Batemans Bay Bowling Club. Council, as the owner of this site, had tried to initiate a public-private partnership some time ago with a view to build a bus terminus, shops, offices, a conference centre and highrise tourism accommodation on the site however they failed to find anyone interested. As it stands Council can negotiate a sale and agree to the offer in a Ordinary Meeting Confidential session that has no Agenda Item, and then fail to minute it only to announce it a week later. This is exactly what they did when they purchased the bowling club site. The Batemans Bay Bowling Club site was purchased for $2.7m by Council on the justification that it would be the gateway to the shire with an iconic building. Should Council now sell the site without any partnership the design and function of the building only need comply with NSW Planning and Council would have very little, if any input. Eurobodalla Council, having purchased the site in 2017, changed its classification to operational, are at liberty to sell the site. Having borrowed $2 million of the $2.7m purchase one hopes that Council might at least break even on the sale. The Mayor has remarked of the site that it is a "goldmine" so they might well be expecting more than $2.7m in the current market. Whatever happens will see, in the long run, two highrise developments straddling the new five lane Batemans Bay bypass and four lane bridge. As to how many stories they will be? It is already anticipated that Batemans Bay CBD will be heading skywards as the continued focus is placed around utilising and maximising existing infrastructure (water and sewer), reducing carbon footprints with more public transport and stimulating the CBD with more CBD residents to increase demand and trade with local businesses. In the meantime keep an eye out for a stunning new 30 metre mural that will be visible as you enter Batemans Bay across the bridge.