Seven MCC councillors have shown solidarity for the continued progress on council's central administration building on Biripi Way.
A majority vote at the MidCoast Council ordinary meeting on March 25 saw councillors appoint a head contractor to fit out the building.
Mayor David West, deputy mayor Claire Pontin, and councillors Len Roberts, Troy Fowler, Karen Hutchison, Katheryn Smith and Brad Christiansen have issued a joint statement to express their excitement (albeit in uncertain times) that the project can now proceed in the interest of what they believe will be better community outcomes as well as an economic boost to the local building industry.
The head contractor is a national firm with locally based employees and much of the $18.6m fit out costs will be awarded to local sub-contractors and tradespeople.
The councillors believe it is important to go ahead so this money can be injected into the local economy as soon as practicable, providing significant economic certainty for the local building industry.
They say the decision to proceed is the culmination of more than two years of careful planning and analysis by council staff and expert consultants and follows a tender process (overseen by an expert probity consultant).
With the full fit out cost of $18.6m, the total cost of this project is $25.6m and well within budget. The costs will be partially offset by savings and sale of investment and/or no longer needed properties.
While they acknowledge there has been some vocal opposition from a local lobby group, they say the benefits in terms of improved productivity and cost savings will lead to better outcomes for ratepayers.
There has been some recent suggestions (including a rescission motion signed by three councillors) that MidCoast Council should go into "hibernation" and not make important decisions at this point in time, due to uncertainties around Covid-19.
The councillors took the view, however, that this would add to the general economic uncertainty and supported the Prime Minister's call for businesses - and government bodies in particular - to get on with business as usual, wherever possible.
Council staff are in continual contact with State Government agencies in relation to the impacts of COVID-19 and the implications for this region and are monitoring all health-related government information.
The councillors thank the staff involved who worked with commitment and professionalism to deliver results, sometimes in the face of unwarranted and uncivil criticism from a small number of opponents to the project.
They say it will also provide some certainty for staff who have been working in an amalgamated council scattered across a large LGA for nearly four years.
The councillors reiterated their arguments in favour of the project:
- The total purchase price of the project is $25.6m ($7m for the land, building and utilities; 18.6m for the fit out, modifications to the building structure, furniture and solar panels).
- Council will pay for this project using existing savings, property investment incomes and loans repaid over 20 years so that the cost is spread out. (Council has very flexible and low-cost borrowing facilities.)
- The move will free up four existing council buildings for lease or sale at an appropriate time to recoup the highest returns (there will be no fire sale). Council also has other investment properties, some with better expected returns which may be sold in the first instance, for instance vacant land in Chapmans Road, Tuncurry, which is currently on the market.
- Two independent cost benefit studies (including financial sensitivity analyses) undertaken by external financial experts concluded that the financial benefits of this project outweigh the alternative campus model of dispersed offices.
- Council can afford the project, having prepared a Financial Strategy that was reviewed by the State Government's Office of Local Government and independently peer reviewed by external auditors.
- The project will replace four buildings, several in need of costly repair and refurbishment, with a relatively new building with lower ongoing maintenance costs and improved and more collaboration friendly facilities for staff.
- Front counter services will still be available in Forster at the new Council facilities in Lake Street (Civic Precinct).
- For those residents wanting to attend council meetings, travelling to Taree rather than Forster is more convenient for many, including those living in the southern regions such as Tea Gardens and Gloucester.
- This project will not impact on rates. It will be fully funded outside of the rates budget. (Any increase in rates would need to be through a request for a Special Rate Variation and there is no intention to apply for this.)
- The Covid-19 restrictions may cause some disruption to completion of the work.
- All business papers and audio recordings of council deliberations on this matter are available on the Council website.
While you're with us...
Did you know the Manning River Times is now offering breaking news alerts and a weekly email newsletter? Keep up-to-date with all the local news: sign up here.