WONTHAGGI has been denied the chance to receive upwards of $2 million in State Government funding for a much needed indoor highball (basketball) facility, after the Bass Coast Shire Council voted to not make an application for funding.
The community has gone into meltdown following the decision and is blaming local councillors Les Larke and Julian Brown, but the pair insists there was not enough time to find the matching funds at such late notice in an already stretched budget.
Cr Larke spearheaded a motion at a council meeting on Wednesday, February 15, to not make application for funding from the Victorian School Building Authority Shared Facilities Fund.
He said at the meeting that more financial discipline was required by the current council.
“We can’t be making capital planning decisions on the run,” Cr Larke said.
“I think there’s a theme throughout tonight, and that is that we require much more financial discipline.
“I understand this is potentially an opportunity, however the second reason apart from not having the financial discipline, is that there’s really no capital works framework around this process.
“We need to consider equity across the shire.”
Cr Julian Brown seconded the motion, adding to Cr Larke’s concerns for the financial future of the shire.
“I am in favour of better highball facilities for the shire, and Wonthaggi in particular. One of my concerns is that it seems to be forcing a choice on us,” Cr Brown said.
“We could go with this proposal, or we can go with the plan that has already been drawn up. It seems pretty unrealistic to me that we can do both.”
The Bass Coast Shire Council was invited by the building authority on February 3 to supply additional information for its submission to the Shared Facilities Fund.
An estimated $2 million would need to be supplied by the council over the 2017-18 and 2018-19 budgets, should funding have been allocated by the State Government.
While money from the Shared Facilities Fund would not be guaranteed, the council has ruled itself out of any potential opportunity to receive funding, as they did not submit an application by the deadline of Friday, February 17.
Deputy Mayor Cr Brett Tessari was the only Bunurong ward councillor to support an application.
“We’ve spent the previous four months saying we’ve got to cut costs, we’ve got to get the budget in order, and we’ve knocked other projects on the head. But this is one that we need to listen to the community on, and listen to what their wants are,” Cr Tessari said.
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“The basketball association currently plays out of a gym at the Wonthaggi North School, which is not up to standard. We have this earmarked as a project down the track, but this is our chance now to get this project half funded by state money.
“It’s a project that I think has overwhelming community support, and we need to take the opportunity.”
Cr Clare Le Serve said it would be a shame for the council to not accept the invitation that had been generously extended.
“It would be a backwards step to kill this project at this stage,” Cr Le Serve said.
Cr Le Serve responded to Cr Larke’s concern regarding the timing of the funding application, saying the council needs to take advantage of opportunities whenever they are presented.
“It would be very remiss of us to miss this opportunity. Sure, it came upon us quickly. But these are the breaks you get in government and funding channels, and we’ve got to be ready to accept it.
“Community consultation did take place. The Wonthaggi Basketball Association presented to the council. Many organisations have offered support for this project.
“Wonthaggi should be a regional centre. All our young people every Saturday leave this shire to go and play basketball. They’re going to Pakenham, they’re going over to the valley, and they’re taking their money with them because we haven’t got a proper facility.”
The vote to not apply for funding was won five to four, to which Cr Le Serve commented, “That’s a shame”.
Mayor Pamela Rothfield, Cr Larke, Cr Brown, Cr Steve Fullarton and Cr Geoff Ellis voted against making an application for funding.
It did not pass the attention of Councillor Michael Whelan that two Bunurong ward councillors voted against a significant project Wonthaggi.
“As an Island ward councillor I feel a bit strange standing up for a project in Wonthaggi, but it’s amazing that two out of the three Bunurong ward councillors are opposing this,” Cr Whelan said.
“I’m sad we’ve gone straight to the kill button on this project.”
In November 2016 the council prepared and submitted an expression of interest through the Victorian School Building Authority 2016/17 Shared Facilities Fund to develop a three court highball stadium (recreation/basketball).
The facility is proposed to be located on a green field site accessed via McKenzie Street, Wonthaggi.
If attempts to secure funding were successful, the stadium facility would be co-located with the future Wonthaggi Secondary College senior campus.
The highball facility would have comprised of change rooms, storage for basketball, netball and other uses, administration areas, small social area and combined meeting space, kiosk and vending areas, spectator seating and a first aid room.
THE Wonthaggi Amateur Basketball Association (WABA) has expressed its disappointment in the council decision.
A spokesperson from the WABA said that they feel the council has let them down.
“For many years the Wonthaggi Amateur Basketball Association (WABA) has been lobbying the Bass Coast Shire Council for a compliant high ball multipurpose facility in Wonthaggi for the use of all Bass Coast residents.
“The council has acknowledged the need, benefits and strong community support for such a facility but has not prioritised it due to financial constraints,” a spokesperson said.
“Recently after submitting an expression of interest for State Government funding, the council was invited (by the State Government) to proceed to the next stage by submitting a full application.
“In short, the council would need to commit up to $2 million, in principle, and the likely state funding grant could be around $2.6 million. This funding may not be offered again.
“The council has been presented with evidence of the high demand for such a facility in Wonthaggi, the financial viability of high ball facilities, economic impact statements showing the financial benefits to communities who are able to run camps and junior tournaments as well as the difficult conditions WABA is faced with to sustain its competition and membership. “Currently Bass Coast residents leave town every week to go and play basketball in other shires; this in itself creates an economic loss for our shire.
“Limited access to courts has a dramatic impact on WABA’s ability to run programs for our members.
“We are unable to run training programs for our domestic players and we have limited options to train our representative players.
“Our existing courts are non-compliant and costly for the association to hire.
“These issues threaten the sustainability of WABA, as many families have chosen to play in neighbouring associations with greater resources.
“The social benefits of being involved in team sports are immeasurable and WABA desperately need improved facilities and access to more courts to ensure the viability of this association and the programs that it runs in the future.
“The decision made by the council puts the very future of this association in jeopardy.”