INSTEAD of trying to undo the damage they did to Wonthaggi’s highball stadium project last month, the Bass Coast Shire Council has simply ‘kicked the can down the road’.
In front of a packed public gallery last week, many of them there to hear council relent and finally agree to go after a grant from the Victorian School Building Authority 2017 Share Facility Fund, the council opted to stick to its guns.
The motion, passed on February 15, not to provide the additional information sought by the authority and not to provide ‘an in principle budget allocation of not greater than $2 million’ stands.
In a move which may actually be illegal, the council voted unanimously to rescind two parts of the controversial motion, neither of which clears the way for council to seek late entry into the funding source as urged by Bass MP Brian Paynter.
That opportunity is now effectively dead in the water.
What the rescission motion, moved by Cr Clare Le Serve last Wednesday, does achieve, however, is to leave open the opportunity for council to apply for government grants in the future, and to match those grants with its own funds.
It’s exactly what it was being asked to do last month.
The Mayor Cr Pam Rothfield, has now admitted the February decision was a mistake, rushed and poorly handled. “That was a mistake,” Cr Rothfield said.
“The whole item on the previous agenda was rushed, and Cr Les Larke was even prepared to rescind his previous decision because he realised afterwards it was a rushed decision,” she said.
“We’ve had a month since that last meeting, and in that short time we’ve assessed it and it’s something that we do not want to throw off the table.
“We’re getting a handle on what we can and cannot do, and looking at future opportunities.”
Prior to moving the partial Notice of Rescission at last week’s meeting, Cr Clare Le Serve said she sought the advice of the CEO Paul Buckley, who said it was allowable to rescind part of a motion, even though substantial parts of the motion had been acted upon.
“It was too late to put in a submission to the Shared Facilities Fund,” Cr Le Serve told the ‘Sentinel-Times’, and therefore the allocation of not greater than $2 million from the 2017-18 and 2018-19 was no longer relevant.
But Cr Le Serve said that rescinding the other parts of the motion clears the way for council to seek funding for its own highball stadium project and also for the aquatic centre.
Funds from the shire’s budget can also be set aside, Cr Le Serve said.
The rescission motion comes after weeks of backlash from across the community, including comments made by Bass MP Brian Paynter, who called the invitation for funding a “golden opportunity”.
All councillors voted unanimously for the rescission motion, including Bunurong ward councillors Les Larke and Julian Brown, who a month ago vehemently opposed the idea of applying for the funding due to the parlous state of council finances.
In February, Cr Larke stated that he would not make any capital planning decisions on the run, and that the council needed to consider equity issues across the shire carefully before making any decisions.
But he supported the partial backdown on Wednesday night.
“Certainly I’ll be supporting this,” Cr Larke said.
Cr Brown agreed, stressing the importance of keeping communications open between the state government and the Bass Coast Shire Council.
“I think this is a good motion,” Cr Brown said.
“If these points are not rescinded, then council is not free to engage in discussions. For me, it’s about keeping the options open.”
Just four weeks ago, Cr Brown was reluctant to engage in any discussions regarding a potential indoor stadium for Wonthaggi, saying he felt the council was being forced into a proposal without time to give it adequate consideration.
Deputy Mayor, Cr Brett Tessari, made note of the outcry from the community.
“This is a fantastic demonstration of the community speaking up,” Cr Tessari said.
“These are new councillors here to represent the community. Although the decision a month ago did really disappoint me, what it did show was the willingness of the community to step up and support something they believe in.
“I believe that’s advantageous to the community and to the council. Seeing all these people here tonight is just fantastic.”
But they didn’t get what they wanted. The council won’t be going after the shared facilities grant.
Councillors instead voted to create a Wonthaggi Highball Reserve, with money to be allocated to the fund each financial year through the regular budget process.
It could be years before the town gets a proper stadium.
Bass Coast CEO, Paul Buckley, said as a result of the latest decision, the shire’s administration could commence negotiations and discussions with the state government seeking funding and would present councillors with recommendations on how to pursue grant opportunities in the future.
Council won’t fix stadium ‘mistake’