As Clarence Valley Council lurches towards meeting its Fit for the Future commitments and making a decision about its proposed special rates variation, its plan to construct a $17.5m depot at Tyson Street, South Grafton continues to muddy the waters.
To date, the council has accepted tenders to spend more than $1million on design consultancy ($745,701) and project management ($256,000) on a project that councillors have yet to resolve whether or not to proceed past the design phase.
Meanwhile, at an extraordinary council meeting on October 27, councillors considered Cr Andrew Baker’s, Cr Karen Toms’ and Cr Jim Simmons’ ill-fated notice of motion to have staff, among other actions, “report on a program of asset disposals required to realise at least nett $40 million by the sale of unused and not-required assets”.
What transpired, however, was more conservative and, in real terms, the implementation of what the council had already planned to do, as outlined in the council’s Fit for the Future submission to the IPART (Independent Pricing & Regulatory Tribunal).
The mayor, Richie Williamson, won the support of Crs McKenna, Simmons, Lysaught, Kingsley and Howe (Cr Hughes was absent) to have the general manager table a report at yesterday’s meeting (held after the Independent went to press) “identifying a minimum $5million of assets to be considered for sale as a first wave of asset dispersal”.
The report was tabled at yesterday’s meeting under the heading, DEPOT AND OFFICE ACCOMMODATION RATIONALISATION.
In the preamble to the item, the general manager wrote that the “schedule of property assets, which have been identified for sale in accordance with council’s ‘Fit for the Future’ strategy, for property rationalisation to reduce duplication and operating costs, … also meets the requirements” of the decision taken at the extraordinary meeting.
Councillor Baker told the Independent that “the depot rationalisation process hijacks all the good intentions of the Division of Local Government’s Capital Expenditure Guidelines for projects over $10million”.
That process, he said, lacked “any competent business case model, has no cost/benefit analysis and has lacked any attempt at justification from the outset”.
Councillor Baker has unsuccessfully argued – from the beginning of councillors’ consideration of the matter in September 2013 – that it would be prudent to produce a cost benefit analysis of the project before any decisions were taken.
The Capital Expenditure Guidelines state: “Councils must undertake public consultation and engagement processes prior to making any commitment to the project.”
The council’s works and civil director, Troy Anderson, however, has written to Clarence Forum convenor John Hagger, stating that “Council has not resolved to proceed past the design stage for this project and therefore is not in the process of ‘undertaking a capital works project of this size’”.
Confusingly, the March 2014 council meeting minutes state: “The appointment of a project manager for the Depot and Accommodation Rationalisation Project is the commencement of a project which will see [the] operation of Clarence Valley Council move to long term financially sustainable accommodation and remove the quadruplication of council services which have existed since amalgamation.”
Councillor Baker has also consistently argued against aspects of the project being regarded as confidential by the general manager.
At yesterday’s meeting, a report nominated nine properties that were identified for sale, some of which would be leased back until council staff have vacated the premises, as part of the rationalisation process.
“The valuations for the sale of these nine (9) properties total $5.305 million (excluding GST),” the report to council stated.
“A summary of the valuations [reserve prices] for each property is included as a confidential attachment to this report.”
To date, the council has spent $11,850 on property valuations.
Meanwhile, the council had already nominated (in its Fit for the Future submission) estimated sale prices for six (totalling $2.75million) of the nine properties tabled at yesterday’s meeting – consisting of five depots in the Grafton area and the office building at 42 Victoria Street.
The remaining three properties listed were the regional library at South Grafton, office space at McNaughton Place in Maclean and vacant land at Mulgi Drive, South Grafton.
When asked how the council would fund the outstanding money needed to complete the depot, Mr Anderson wrote to Mr Hagger, stating: “Council currently has no plans for additional general fund loan borrowings.