TWO Bass Coast councillors have admitted they “could have done a better job” informing the community that Wonthaggi’s Visitor Information Centre (VIC) would shut up shop mid-year, a decision a former councillor described as “offensive”.
More than 150 poured into the Workmen’s Club last Wednesday evening for an emergency meeting organised by the Rotary Club of Wonthaggi.
As the only two council representatives in the room, Bass Coast Mayor, Cr Jordan Crugnale, and Cr Neil Rankine faced a tough crowd, with some openly shouting at the councillors to immediately move a motion to ensure the beloved community service remains open.
Quizzed by attendees on why the council made the decision to close the service behind closed doors, and without community consultation, Cr Crugnale tried the honest approach.
“Could that have been done better? Probably,” she said, amid jeers and laughs from the audience.
“Obviously (we) could have done better communicating.”
Cr Rankine followed up the Mayor’s statement with similar wording.
“We didn’t do this as well as we could have,” he announced.
Several infuriated ratepayers didn’t hold back during question time at the two-hour meeting.
“You’ve let us down badly, Rankine,” Rotary secretary Garry Sharrock yelled.
“You’re meant to be representing us (and) you should have been fighting to keep this open.”
A few others loudly questioned why the council’s CEO, Paul Buckley, tourism manager or anyone in the council’s economic development team did not attend the meeting.
“We’re the council representatives here,” Cr Rankine shot back.
Former, long-time Hovell ward councillor John Duscher was fuming during most of the discussion.
“This decision needs to be rescinded immediately,” he said from the podium.
“I cannot forgive the way the decision was made.
“It’s offensive and shows a complete lack of respect for the wonderful volunteers.”
Mr Duscher said he’d made a conscious effort to stay out of council affairs since he was toppled at the last election in 2012, but he wasn’t prepared to stay quiet after he learned of about the VIC’s pending demise.
“I’ve made no comments about anything but this one really stuck in my throat,” he added.
One information centre volunteer, Jill Muir, came close to tears as she spoke to those gathered about the immense value of Wonthaggi’s VIC.
Ms Muir also remained unconvinced that the closure of the centre would save ratepayers as much as council has claimed, and she reported that she has asked for a detailed breakdown of running costs from the CEO.
Wonthaggi Business Association president, Ross Langlois, said his group has formulated a ‘Plan B’ if the council does not back down on its decision.
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“All businesses in town benefit from the centre and we’re prepared to fight it all the way,” Mr Langlois declared.
Cr Rankine said the Centennial Centre could be used in a multitude of ways once the information service had been moved out, and he envisioned a multi-purpose space which could include an office for the WBA.
“Council does not want to see the building empty; we want the community to come to us and give us ideas,” he reiterated.
Cr Rankine also said that if he were to move an urgent motion regarding the Visitor Information Centre at a council meeting, he would wait until May, once the community had submitted ideas for the building’s future use.
“All businesses in town benefit from the centre and we’re prepared to fight it all the way,” Mr Langlois declared.
Cr Rankine said the Centennial Centre could be used in a multitude of ways once the information service had been moved out, and he envisioned a multi-purpose space which could include an office for the WBA.
“Council does not want to see the building empty; we want the community to come to us and give us ideas,” he reiterated.
Cr Rankine also said that if he were to move an urgent motion regarding the Visitor Information Centre at a council meeting, he would wait until May, once the community had submitted ideas for the building’s future use.