POOR management by the Bass Coast Shire Council rather than a failure to attract visitors is at the heart of council’s covert decision recently to close Wonthaggi’s Visitor Information Centre.
But so desperate is the Wonthaggi Business Association (WBA) to keep the centre open that it may yet put in an expression of interest to run the facility despite voting against such a plan at a special meeting last Monday night.
“I know the people at the meeting voted against the idea but I feel there were enough new ideas discussed on the night to make it at least worth our while putting in an expression of interest,” said WBA Secretary Dee Connell.
“We heard for example that the Wellington Shire Council at Sale subsidises the centre in their town and that’s what we feel is lacking here.
“The shire could still make significant savings by outsourcing the service but it’s valuable enough to business and jobs in Wonthaggi and district for them to agree to contribute something.
“We won’t know if they are prepared to do that if we don’t put in an expression of interest and negotiate on behalf of the town.”
The initiative might need to be the subject of a further meeting of the WBA because last week, members felt it was too big an undertaking.
They also thought that having made the outrageous decision to close the centre without publishing its reasons, the shire council was using the expressions of interest approach to deflect criticism and abrogate its responsibilities.
The meeting heard that without a centre to promote tourism in Wonthaggi and district, business in the area would suffer with a corresponding reduction in visitor numbers, income and employment.
The WBA fears for its own future as well, not being able to offer local business people connection with tourist promotion benefits.
They also claimed that the centre wasn’t properly managed for maximum use and financial return to the ratepayers.
The WBA feels that with modest investment and a new visitors’ centre plan the shire could get a much better result. Failing that the WBA may still consider offering to be the lead agency in a partnership to keep the centre open.
‘You give Rotary a bad name’
ROTARY Club of Wonthaggi’s president has publicly accused Bass Coast Shire Council of tarnishing Rotary’s reputation as the battle to keep the Wonthaggi Visitor Information Centre (VIC) open continues.
A petition is expected to be tabled at this week’s council meeting in Cowes, with Rotary members, information centre volunteers and other concerned locals calling on councillors to rescind the decision to close the centre at the end of June.
Rotary Club of Wonthaggi president, Heather Earle, headed to council’s community question time session last Wednesday along with several other Rotary representatives.
Speaking directly to the Mayor, Cr Jordan Crugnale, and council CEO, Paul Buckley, Ms Earle said she was “thoroughly disappointed” that council was remaining steadfast in its decision to close the service.
“You are ignoring the partnership with Rotary and you’re creating a bad name for us as a Rotary club,” she said.
Along with past Rotary president, Robert McDowell, who delivered an abridged history of Rotary’s decades of involvement with Fincher Street Reserve, where the Centennial Centre is located, Ms Earle also questioned why council was not adhering to specific conditions in the grant supplied by the Federal Government when the centre was built in 2012.
Ms Earle pointed out that, according to the grant, council cannot grant any rights to a third party without prior written approval from the Federal Government.
“Have you got that written approval?” she asked.
Councillors were unable to provide a response and took the question on notice.
Meanwhile, a group of information centre volunteers met with councillors a week early (April 6), voicing their own objections to the impending closure of the service.
Volunteer spokesperson, Jill Muir, claims council’s figures regarding the Wonthaggi VIC ($9.22 per visitor) were wrong.
“Councillors listened to our presentation, which showed that our costs were substantially lower, at $4.44 per visitor,” Ms Muir said.
“Their reply was that the community has already got a 2.5 per cent rate cap, and they cannot ‘have it all’, and that there are many other projects needing attention.”
An Expression of Interest is open for the future use and occupancy of the Centennial Centre, with submissions closing April 29.