Local, Opinion/Comment

Coffs Council asked to fast track funds for Gordon Street Civic Space. Why?

At tonight’s (13-9-18) Coffs Harbour City Council (CHCC) meeting councillors are being asked to accelerate funding for the design phase of the Gordon Street  Cultural and Civic Space and to commit $2 million overall for schematic designs and the preparation of a development application.

By the Editor

The $2million is in place of the $500,000 Councillors allocated back in June of this year. The recommendation motion on the agenda for tonight’s meeting reads as follows;

That Council:

  1. Endorse the revised method of procurement “Construction Management with 2 Stage Early Contractor Involvement”.
  2. Authorise $1.5m to be transferred from the T2S Reserve in the 2018/19 budget year to parallel Schematic Design & Development Application writing with no change to the project budget of $76.5m.
  3. Note that commitment of full project funds by Council would be required once Schematic Design is completed and the Development Application submitted.
  4. Note that the method of procurement facilitates timing of Council asset sales.
  5. Endorse the pursuit of grant opportunities to offset project costs.

The T2S funds referred to apparently come from savings generated annually from the Tranformation to Sustainabilty (T2S) program from 2014 to 2017.

But as regular Outlook contributor ‘Cob’, a retired Federal Government forensic auditor, has highlighted previously;

“When the T2S project delivered any savings that was it.  The specific expense was no longer; it was gone.  In future years the person making the budget estimate at Council would not take it into account.  It is a ‘one off’. So the team leader, accountant or General Manager would adjust the budget estimate in subsequent years? 

Any “saving” is available for allocation to other expense budgets.  No doubt this was done and it was duly spent. No-one in their right mind would overstate the budget requirement only to transfer it to a reserve account for future use.  This is in essence the creation of a ‘slush fund’.”

Strange then that T2S is apparently is still functioning.  Perhaps Cob got the ‘wrong end of the stick’?

But leaving aside this apparent anomaly why the sudden rushed need for an extra $1.5m for the early stages of the Gordon Street  Council Offices/Chambers/Regional Gallery/Museum?

What we have seen with this proposal in the short time since it was mooted is an increase in estimated cost from $35m to $76.5 million at last count and now a 300% increase in the request for the design phase.

Cr Paul Amos is reported as having called on council for caution on this project and warning the CHCC of a potential replay in Coffs Harbour of the Port Macquarie Glasshouse disaster.  Something that led to the dismissal of Port Macquarie’s council and the appointment of an administrator in 2008.

Cr Amos is absolutely right to be cautious.  All the early signs on the Gordon Street proposal are not promising.

In his series of four articles for Outlook Cob highlighted a number of concerns he believed CHCC Councillors needed to get their heads around and to be more cautious.  Those articles can be found as follows;

Part 1,   the Gordon Street Monolith – Can we afford it? – Part 2, Part 3 – options and Dead Money and Transformation to sustainability? – Part 4.

Cob concluded his articles by appealing directly to CHCC Councillors;

I have covered but “a few of the major aspects you have to be aware of with a project as complex as this.  It is included to show you this is not a brief discussion at a Council meeting.  Do you think you need more information? Or will you do as you always do and treat it as commercial in-confidence?  And believe what you are told and offer no reasonable review on behalf of the residents?

Councillors you have not started to do the work required.  Councillors you are tinkering on the sidelines.

What will be the price should you fail to exert due diligence?

It would seem the time Cob refers to is upon Councillors and ratepayers alike.  Will they heed this sage advice or will they prove a former senior CHCC official right when he said;

“If council want their building they will go ahead and have it.  Irrespective of sound arguments to the contrary.”

It is not argued that Council does not need new premises. No, it is being argued that the promised Gordon Street chambers as proposed have every chance of being unaffordable and to therefore become an ongoing problem for ratepayers.

A commentator on Outlook, Archie Black, recently put it far more bluntly;

“If the Coffs Harbour City Council continues its current drive to build this monstrosity in the CBD, when it already owns the land on City Hill, when funding has been promised from State and Federal Governments should it plan to establish its Library, Art Gallery, Museum, Council Chambers and offices including an entertainment centre on City Hill, chooses to ignore all these factors, then it is asking to be sacked and wind up like Geelong.

At the same time quite possibly sending Coffs Harbour into a downward economic spiral.

Sanity must prevail.

I urge the Coffs Harbour City Council, to take a step back and learn from the disaster that Geelong created for itself.

It is not too late to reconsider the City Hill option.”

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