Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Glasshouse funding passes, questions remain

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Monday night’s unscheduled meeting came after an eventful walk out of two councillors at last week’s March Council Meeting, resulting in the meeting not having a quorum. 

Cr Garner Smith went on the record this week stating he and Cr Keith Link left the meeting because of years of frustration with the resistance they have constantly encountered trying to achieve something for ratepayers. He said leaving the meeting was not a decision he took lightly.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was a motion to allocate an additional $852,000 from the capital works budget to cover a shortfall in the Gannawarra Glasshouse project. Initial funding for the project at Kerang’s Sir John Gorton Library came from the Victorian Government, which provided $1.5 million, and the Federal Government’s Community Infrastructure Program, which provided $718,000. The multi-million-dollar meeting place and media lab will now drain the capital works budget as the community looks for drains to be fixed and pools to be protected. 

Cr Smith said the walkout was triggered by a request to allocate even more council funds to ‘The Glasshouse @ The Gannawarra’ project without properly exploring the alternatives. 

“Like drainage projects in Kerang, this is not a project for the whole shire, it is a project for Kerang,” said Cr Smith. 

“That is fine, Kerang needs facilities and infrastructure, but so does Leitchville, Koondrook, Cohuna, Murrabit, Quambatook and Lalbert. 

“Unfortunately, it appears that the majority of councillors are comfortable that they have the numbers, and they have no need to consider anything else.

“The Glasshouse project is full of holes. Where is the business case? Where is the feasibility study?

“If they exist, they are years old and out of date. It had inadequate funding from the beginning. Staff had to reduce the project scope to lower the cost and there is still an $842 thousand shortfall. 

“Overall, over $1.567 million is being spent on a meeting space that the community never asked for. That money can be used elsewhere in the shire.

“All I asked in return was to prioritise a structurally unsound Cohuna pool over a $19.2 million development at the Kerang pool in the 10-year capital works program. I rang all councillors, emailed a proposal to discuss the matter. 

“No response, except the mayor saying he wouldn’t even allow the discussion. 

“As expected, when councillors refused to even discuss it, I proposed we pause the project to find alternative funding and look at spending $1.567 million on improving the drainage in Kerang.

“It is ridiculous that simple, responsible and reasonable proposals are met with such resistance. 

“It is ridiculous that trying to achieve something for our community and our shire is so hard.”

Gannawarra Shire Council Mayor Ross Stanton said he was disappointed in the first meeting and a little disappointed in the second meeting, particularly in terms of behaviour.

“The Glasshouse, the money that we are putting in there is grant money that we’ve got for infrastructure and roads, so it’s available to use that way,” said Mayor Stanton.

“Garner (Cr Smith) is right when he says it could be used elsewhere, and we probably push some smaller projects back because of that.

“It’s not going to affect drainage and it’s not going to affect pools.”

Mayor Stanton said Gannawarra Shire Council has $80,000 for an initial concept for the aquatic strategy, which he hopes will be presented to the community in early 2025. 

“I’m sure there’s a lot more discussion between now and then about which pool we should focus on or not focus on; they will both be grant dependent, so it’ll be tough on us either way.” 

Mayor Stanton said drainage proposals to fix the issues in Kerang were being evaluated by Price Merret. 

“That will give us a bit of an idea on which ones to tackle first and we’ve also had a lot of discussion with ministers about funding.”

The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper 28 March 2024

This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 28 March 2024.

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