SOUTH Gippsland Mayor Cr Ray Argento was asked a direct question last Wednesday, at the end of a public presentation session, by a member of the Great Southern Rail Trail (GSRT) Committee of Management.
He didn’t answer the question.
And given what was being asked, he probably did exactly the right thing.
“So what’s the next step?” asked Rob Knight, the secretary of the GSRT.
He and his fellow GSRT committee member, the president in fact, Neville Pulham, had just got through telling the council that the committee of eight, all of them appointed by the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Minister for Suburban Development, Lily D’Ambrosio, would be standing down on June 30 this year.
They’ve done enough, especially people like Neville Pulham, who have been on the committee for the best part of 20 years.
“They’re just burnt out,” Mr Knight told
the council.
“And we’ve got no capacity to attract people with the requisite skills to take it on,” he said.
“It’ll be a full time job for someone. I do two to three days-a-week on it myself.
“And as a committee, we’re on call 24/7, 365 days of the year, if there’s a fallen tree or something wants doing.”
Mr Knight was making a pitch for the council to take it over but six months into their first term of office, and after months of painstaking work on the council’s budget, several councillors were quick to see the obvious flaw in that suggestion – how much will it cost?
“So, let me get this straight. You’ve got maintenance costs of $120,000 annually, there’s $65,000 contributed in volunteer labour and $30,000 in capital works that need doing, minus the $37,000 you’re getting in licence fees?” asked Cr Meg Edwards.
“That’s $170,000 to $180,000 (cost to council) to do what you’re doing?”
“Yes but the council also gives us $60,000 a year, so you’d have to take that into account,” Mr Knight said.
The council would still have to find well over $100,000 a year to manage land owned by the State Government, to wit, the old South Gippsland Railway Reserve, now a very popular 77km rail trail, with room for expansion.
And there was more than a suggestion, at the meeting, that there’s something wrong with the ‘Pumphouse Bridge’ over the Tarwin, just west of Meeniyan.
So, no wonder the Mayor Cr Argento didn’t jump at the offer of taking over management of the local rail trail, as much as everyone loves what it is doing for the local economy and the wellbeing of the community.
Hopefully there’s some room to negotiate with Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning for a financial contribution.
Otherwise it would amount to more cost-shifting on to local government, and on to local ratepayers.
Or the department might still advertise for expressions of interest from people willing to join the committee of management, clearly one of the region’s most onerous volunteer roles.
Those with a vested interest, the business operators along the way who’ve done so well out of the passing trade, might like to step up.
“My concern is there’s only two months left before we have been asked to take it on,” Cr Edwards said.
“Was there no plan to keep the management committee going?” said Cr Jeremy Rich, thinking along the same lines.
Mr Pulham said after the meeting that the committee had advised the Department back in October that they would not be continuing and had in fact agreed to extend beyond their appointed finishing time, of April 14, 2017, just so that alternative arrangements could be made.
What Cr Argento did do was be effusive in his praise for what the committee members and rail trail volunteers have been able to do to date.
“The work of the committee has not gone on unrecognised by the community. I thank you for it and for the contribution you have made to the wellbeing of the South Gippsland Shire.”
All councillors chimed in with similar sentiments.
But the question remains, what happens after June 30, 2017?
It was a question left to hang in the air as the rail trail officials departed the scene.