Clarence Valley Council has accepted a $13.185million tender from Hutchinson Builders, to construct a new depot, including remediation of the site, at Tyson Street, South Grafton.
At last week’s council meeting, five of eight councillors – clrs Williamson, Lysaught, Hughes, McKenna and Kingsley – were in favour of proceeding with the project, despite the objections of clrs Baker, Toms and Simmons.
Councillor Craig Howe was absent.
Councillor Andrew Baker was of the opinion that the decision should have been deferred until a new council is installed in October, after the sale of assets as a part of CVC’s depot rationalisation process, “particularly when funding of this project hasn’t been assured”.
Properties at Victoria Street and Bruce Street are to be auctioned in Sydney on August 2.
Properties at 29-31 Brickworks Lane, 110 Spring Street, 32 Mulgi Drive (all at South Grafton) and 70 Pound Street, Grafton will be auctioned at each site on August 6.
“We’ve never had a full justification of this project,” Cr Baker said. “The council is going about this in a last minute rush, and is being dangerous for the sake of being dangerous.”
Councillor Jim Simmons raised concerns about the council borrowing $5.334million from the council’s water fund.
“We previously said this council would not have to borrow from its general fund; yet here we are borrowing $5.33million,” he said.
Councillor Karen Toms said the council should wait until the land and property sales were completed before we “commit a future council to a huge investment”.
She, too, was concerned about the internal loan. “We were not supposed to borrow, but now we’re borrowing from ourselves and we have to get the minister to approve it … really?” she said.
The council is compelled by the Local Government Act to seek approval from the Minister for Local Government for the internal loan: from the water fund to the general fund.
It will be “repaid within five years, with interest to accrue at 4 per cent on the outstanding principal on a quarterly basis”, the council resolution states.
The council’s civil and works director, Troy Anderson, told councillors that work on the project could begin before the minister approves the loan, which was “just to cover a cash flow issue”.
The general manager, Scott Greensill, told the councillors that the loan would be repaid as “soon as funds become available”.
He said he would be “surprised if the majority of the loan was not paid off in 12 to 18 months”.
Councillor Toms was also concerned regarding potential contamination of the site, about which she said the council had not been “open and transparent”.
During a recent effort to obtain a map of the area, where a former employee alleged asbestos pipes had been dumped over a period of decades, the general manager invited Cr Toms to submit a formal GIPA (Government Information (Public Access)) and pay the associated fees “as a member of the public”.
“…I have … been denied access to that information,” she wrote to the convenor of the Facebook Clarence Forum group, John Hagger.
Published on the forum with Cr Toms’ permission, she wrote: “The General Manager doesn’t agree with me that there are community concerns about asbestos on that site.
“…The reason he has given me is the issue of alleged asbestos has been dealt with and is not a matter that is before Council.”
In support of the project proceeding, Cr Arthur Lysaught said the majority of councillors had supported the idea since the “decision making process started in 2013” and that “a considerable amount” has already been spent … and, from the workshops I have attended, this is in the best interests of the ratepayers”.
Councillor Jason Kingsley spoke in support of the internal loan and said that the assumed savings meant that the council was “heading in the right direction”.
The report to council states that “the project is to achieve a one-off benefit of $480,000 in addition to the delivery of an efficiency dividend of $1,035,762 in the first year, $822,307 in the second year and $1,088,974 each year following”.
“This is the council looking towards the future,” Cr Kingsley said.
The mayor, Richie Williamson, said he echoed Cr Lysaught’s sentiment – “It’s a good project let’s get on with it.”
“At some stage we’ve got to make a decision,” he said.
“The next council may thank us … the savings are real, the sooner it starts the better … [we] cannot for one second deny this not in the best interest of our ratepayers.
“…At some point we’ve got to do our job … to make savings in budgets and, with this, to move forward with the project.
“There has been no rush; [it has] been planed since 2012/13.
“There has been plan after plan … at some point we’ve got to make decision …. I’m sure we’ll get the minister’s approval.”