Matching funds missing for Cultural and Civic Space
AS COUNCILLORS face a huge decision on the next stage of one of Coffs Harbour's biggest infrastructure projects this week, the deputy mayor has taken the unusual step of asking her Facebook followers for advice.
Councillor Tegan Swan has also given an indication that she is concerned about committing such a large sum of ratepayers funds to the project given the lack of matching funds from government.
Cr Swan posted a link to plans for the Cultural and Civic Space on Sunday afternoon and in less than 24 hours had almost 60 comments with many praising her for being so accessible.
"Thanks for allowing us to express our opinion, a rare commodity for councillors," posted Brian Rutter.
Cr Swan made no apology for taking this approach.
"For me it makes sense. I think it's an effective way to hear what people have to say even if it's not official. It's something I would like to do more of," Cr Swan said.
"There's been lots of feedback and consultation, but sometimes that only captures the very passionate for or against, so hopefully this provides a quick and easy platform to enter the (unofficial) conversation."
The majority of comments were against the Gordon St project, which is currently estimated to cost $76-million (reduced to a net $46-million based on the sale of current council assets).
Many noted the absence of a performance space in the design and questioned the need for new council offices in particular.
"Why do we need a new council chambers, gallery and library? Don't these things already exist? We don't have a decent performance space," posted Monica Lihou.
Councillor Cr Paul Amos last week warned costs could blow-out to as much as $100-million and many made note of this in their responses.
"Listen to Cr Paul Amos and the many people who know that it's not the right way to be spending so much money when there are cheaper alternatives and locations ... It requires a brave person to question what is proposed and come out against this major step by CHCC as Cr Paul Amos has done," Rob Trezise commented.
Cr Amos also revealed a number of State and Federal grants for matching funds have been unsuccessful and this is also weighing on Cr Swan's mind as she heads into Thursday night's crucial vote.
"While a whole lot of due diligence has been done to show we can afford it, I wouldn't feel comfortable to committing to that much money without matching grant support and we don't have that at the moment," Cr Swan said.
"I would be more comfortable to say yes, proceed, when we have matching funding."
Those who defended the project urged councillors to be brave and forge ahead to provide an iconic building for the community to be proud of in years to come.
"If you look at the building of the Opera House back in the day you would have had the same opposition in public commentary times ten .... yet today it has become an icon generating millions in tourism revenue," wrote Pamela Fayle.
Many warned the project could be akin to Port Macquarie's Glasshouse, which ran over budget and led to the sacking of councillors.
"If this goes ahead council needs to be put into administration," Mal Schweitzer wrote.
The matter will be up for consideration at Thursday's council meeting.
The meeting starts at 5pm and is open to the public.