By Kirra Grimes
A MEET and greet with the new face of the South Gippsland Shire Council in Korumburra last week “went a long way to restoring confidence” in the organisation after a period of “disarray,” says the president of the local business association.
The Council’s Acting Administrator Julie Eisenbise and Acting CEO Bryan Sword attended the Korumburra Business Association’s (KBA) quarterly information night at the Korumburra Community Meeting Room last Tuesday, in an appearance KBA president Noelene Cosson described as “showing how approachable Council really are”.
Addressing around 30 Korumburra business operators and other community members, Ms Eisenbise and Mr Sword explained their roles within the shire organisation and the processes by which they were appointed, before opening the floor to questions on anything and everything related to the governance of South Gippsland.
Topics raised included the planning permit approval process, recycling and waste management, the availability of car parking spaces in town, and the user-friendliness of the shire’s website.
But the majority of the discussion centred on the progress of specific infrastructure projects including Korumburra’s proposed Community Hub and Great Southern Rail Trail extension, and the IGA supermarket development.
On the Hub and whether it was still going ahead, Mr Sword said, “the short answer is yes; the long answer is, we still need three administrators briefed.”
He said the railway precinct remained the preferred site and there had been “extremely strong consultation” and “robust conversations” with all community groups who would be moving there.
On the Streetscape, Mr Sword said: “What happens with the Hub will impact on the Streetscape” and Council would not be starting any works that might have to be “ripped up” to allow access to the Hub.
In terms of pedestrian access to the Hub, from the main street, he said, “all possible elements will be considered,” including the decommissioned Caltex service station site.
On the Rail Trail extension, Mr Sword said removing train tracks to make way for the Rail Trail or Hub would not reduce the likelihood of trains being run through the rail corridor in the future.
“The tracks aren’t fit for modern trains anyway,” he said. “So, the Rail Trail works don’t compromise the ability to get trains back in the future… But they’re unlikely to return within the next 20 years.”
On the supermarket development, stalled since December 2018, Mr Sword said talks between Council and the developers, Michaels IGA, had “never stopped” and that the development was a “very important priority” he would be “putting in front of the three administrators,” as soon as they were appointed.
Just three and a half weeks into the job, and still waiting for two more administrators to be appointed and briefed on these and other priority projects, Ms Eisenbise wasn’t able to answer questions in detail, but said she was determined to see the organisation “deliver on major projects which will deliver significant benefits to our towns”.
Ms Eisenbise said her first weeks in the administrator’s role had focused on “getting [her] head around” strategic priorities, and getting out to meet the community, including at schools and various volunteer groups.
She’d also been looking into “cost cutting exercises” and “putting timeframes on projects that have been dragging on,” although she wouldn’t say which ones.
Ms Eisenbise also said the organisation was also working on “cultural change, after Mr Sword admitted the “turmoil” of recent months had seen council staff subjected to an unprecedented level of “pressure” and “scrutiny,” and that there were “certainly lessons to be learned”.
Ms Eisensbise said her new role in South Gippsland was “a real challenge” but also “a true privilege,” praising in particular the “great community work,” carried out by groups like the KBA.
“It’s critical that we bring the community together,” she said.
“It feels a little bruised at the moment. And the groups and volunteers working positively everywhere [in the shire] are what we really need to promote. They’re the treasures of these small communities.”
KBA president Noelene said it was good to see Ms Eisenbise and Mr Sword encouraging people to put forward their ideas on Council projects, and that she “couldn’t have more confidence” that Ms Eisenbise was the right person to “look at what our priorities are and what we can do to move forward and get the best outcome”.