Debate between MidCoast Council councillors is still continuing over the lease of the former MidCoast Council administrative building in Pulteney Street, Taree to Taree Universities Campus (TUC).
Most councillors had something to contribute to the debate at council's ordinary meeting on April 27, 2022, where a recommendation was made to negotiate and draft a formal lease agreement between the two parties.
However there was deep confusion and no understanding of who TUC is and what they do amongst some councillors, with some calling it 'the university'.
"I'd like to bring to the attention of the listeners and people viewing this tape (sic) that this is a private university*. This is like Bond University in Queensland. This is not a government university," Cr Dheera Smith said.
"So with nearly 90 students that's opposed to UNE with 600 students and TAFE with a myriad more.
"I think that yes, it is great to support education, but we need to be mindful that at this moment our universities that are fully government universities, not privatised, are being gutted for our academics, and brought to their needs with funding and as well as TAFE.
"So I'm just mindful that transportation is needed for students to get to this university from our far reaching areas like the little small towns we talked about so fondly today, and there may be other services that we could provide to this private university. It IS a private university," Cr Dheera Smith concluded.
(*Editor's note: Taree Universities Campus is not a university. It is a not-for-profit community organisation who partners with UNE, University of Newcastle, Charles Sturt University, and Central Queensland University to provide a campus for a mixed mode delivery of some of the partnered universities' courses so local students doing those degrees do not have to leave the area to study.)
Cr David West said it didn't matter whether TUC was a private or public university, the money was given to council for the express purpose of "ensuring the money is put to the use of the university (sic)".
Councillor Peter Howard expressed his concern that "$5 million now might not be worth what $5 million will be in 25 years' time".
Cr Troy Fowler pointed out that while that may be true, it is probable that the land and the building, being on the riverside and in the CBD, would also be worth a lot more in 25 years time and that at the end of the 25 year lease, the community, through council, would still own the site and it would have greatly appreciated in value.
"People have made the remark that $5 million for 25 years seems like we are getting ripped off. That actually works out to $200,000 a year," Cr Paul Sandilands contributed.
Cr Jeremy Miller said securing the funding delivered a good financial result and an outstanding community result.
"We're not collecting rent every year or every month for the 25 years, we get the whole lot up front straight into our bank account and any landlord would be thrilled with that deal," Cr Miller said.
We're not collecting rent every year or every month for the 25 years, we get the whole lot up front straight into our bank account and any landlord would be thrilled with that deal.- MidCoast councillor Jeremy Miller
"That means we can go ahead and invest those funds right now and over the life of the agreement that means the $5 million, earning interest, is worth roughly double that - around $10 million. And as if that wasn't enough, council still owns the building at the end of the agreement."
Mayor Claire Pontin concluded the discussion, saying, "I think it is a fabulous outcome for the community. It broadens the horizons for a lot of would-be students and students alike, and I'm very proud that council is partnering with TUC on this venture."
After the discussion Cr Miller requested the general manager look into providing a presentation on TUC by its CEO to councillors, to counteract the "misunderstandings" around what TUC does, adding "Taree Universities Campus is not a university".
Cr Pontin agreed it was a good idea saying there was "a bit of confusion" in the discussion.
The recommendation was passed with Crs Pontin, Miller, Sandilands, Tickle, Fowler, Howard, Katheryn Smith and Dheera Smith voting for.
Cr Kathryn Bell voted against, questioning the $500,000 portion set aside in the grant funding for fit out of the building to make it fit for purpose for TUC, and saying she didn't think it was council's role, as landlord, to fit out the building for the tenant.
Cr Alan Tickle was not present for this item of business because of a declared conflict of interest.
Cr Epov was absent from the ordinary council meeting.
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