Clarence Valley Council’s flagship cost-saver, the proposed depot at South Grafton, is closer to fruition following last week’s council meeting; however, two councillors, Karen Toms and Andrew Baker, are not convinced calm waters lay ahead.
Councillors, apart from Crs Toms and Baker, gave approval for the “general manager to undertake the tender process for the rationalisation of the Grafton depots”.
The depot’s construction will replace five other depots in the Grafton area, which “are nearing the end of their asset lives”.
The report to council states: “Based upon the previously presented estimate of $13.385M for [construction of] the depot, the … cost savings and efficiency dividends are expected to produce ongoing annual savings of $1.089M and $480,000 in one-off benefits, upon full occupation of the new facility.”
During questions before debate, Cr Baker asked: “When are we likely to have public consultation … as required by the [Office of Local Government (OLG)] Capital Expenditure Guidelines (CEG)?”; and, “When am I likely to see a report on alternatives as required by the guidelines?”
On the public consultation, the general manager, Scott Greensill, said: “We provided the report for councillors’ consideration [at last month’s meeting] and it has been submitted for approval by the OLG; the processes are going forward.
On the consideration of alternatives, Mr Greensill said he would take the question “on notice” and provide a written response once Cr Baker had asked the question in writing.
Opening the debate, the mayor, Richie Williamson, said putting the project out to tender was “not a big matter at this stage”.
He said the development application had been approved by the Joint Regional Planning Panel and that “we know the benefits of the project, they’re very clearly illustrated … the logical next step is to test the market with regards to the construction of the project”.
Councillor Baker said there “are logical steps and they are quite clearly set out by the CEG”.
“Before we get to the process of meeting up with the CEG guidelines we have, at 10.7, the public consultation process,” he said.
“It’s quite clear how that’s to be carried out; I’m unaware of such a public consultation process.
“More importantly, to me, at 10.5 [in the CEG] it requires us to consider a full range of project alternatives.
“We seem to be rushing on each step, when the state government [has] already set out the logical process we have to go through to keep faith with the people [ratepayers] who employ us.”
Councillor Hughes said: “The independent report states … that the existing facilities [depots] are nearing the end of their asset lives and will need $8.7million to make them compliant.
“Blind Freddy can see it’s the best decision for us to move to the tender process.”
Councillor Toms said she “must be Blind Freddy”, and wondered why the council was using ratepayers’ money to finance the depot.
“We don’t see the state government using their money to build the gaol … they’ll use private money.”
She said that, in a confidential report, “we have now learned there is more money to be spent that we did not know [about]” and was critical of the council using its cash reserves, “when we have trouble balancing our operational budget”.
She pointed out that “depreciation had not been included in the report” and that it would “add millions to the final figure”.
She said “we should go out to the community first, to tell them what we are going to do with the cash we have in the bank”.
In his right of reply, Cr Williamson said the community consultation process was “clearly outlined” in the Capital Expenditure Review – Rationalisation of Grafton Depots report.
“It [community consultation] started in 2012,” he said. “Everyone in the room voted to support that document in its entirety … inaction is costing $91,000, approximately, a month in savings.”
He hoped local contractors would engage at each level of the project.
The CEG report prepared by CVC for the OLG states: “Council consulted with the community … as part of the development of its Community Strategic Plan and associated integrated reporting documents in 2014.
“Numerous community sessions were held, with the need for a new depot outlined in each of these sessions.”
Further, it states that the proposed depot had been a “part of Council’s delivery plan and operational plans since 2012, and has had a budgetary contribution toward it each year”.