COLAC Otway Shire Council will launch an internal inquiry into the Bluewater Fitness Centre’s $2-million budget blowout, which a councillor has described as “financially irresponsible”.
The council gave chief Rob Small approval to go ahead with the centre upgrade in October, including an option for the council to borrow up to $1.7 million and take money from other funding programs.
But Cr Stephen Hart called for the council to reveal how each councillor voted on the controversial financial decision, saying four councillors voted in favour of the project’s approval and three opposed supporting the budget blowout.
Cr Hart also said the centre upgrade report, presented at Wednesday’s council meeting, failed “to disclose the full text of the resolution adopted by the council on October 23 in the in-committee meeting regarding the Bluewater Fitness Centre project”.
He moved a motion directing Mr Small to “release the full text of the resolution adopted by the council” but the motion was lost, three votes to four.
But Cr Chris Smith’s motion demanding the council prepare “a full internal inquiry into cost overruns” and present it to the council by its February meeting” was adopted five votes to two, with Cr Brian Crook and Cr Frank Buchanan opposing an inquiry.
Cr Smith said the inquiry would give the council a clear understanding of why the community was paying $12 million for the centre upgrade rather than the previous estimate of $10 million.
Cr Hart said he knew “ratepayers were in trouble” at the October meeting when councillors approved the extra funding.
“At the in-committee meeting in October we were told to accept a 500-per-cent blowout in the ratepayers’ contribution; the vote was four to three and I voted against it,” he said.
“The project should have been cut down to size and this could be the most financially irresponsible decision made by this council.
“The project was meant to cost $10 million, it is that straight forward; $500,000 was meant to be ratepayers’ contribution.
“I understand every councillor supports the project but no thoughts of an alternative was even presented to councillors to cut it down to size.”
Cr Hart said more debt would mean more rate increases and less money for infrastructure.
But Cr Crook said the project was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a facility to service the needs for future generations”.
“The decision has already been made; sure there needs to be some explanation as to why we have such a difference between the budget and the final price, the quantity surveyor and architect have questions to answer,” Cr Crook said.
“Council can accommodate the funds needed; we could compromise the project or view the opportunities before us.
“I remember the outrage when the pool was built but it has served us well for the last 20 years and will for the next 20.”
Cr Michael Delahunty and Cr Smith also raised concerns about the budget blowout.
“Rates have gone up 40 per cent in the last four years; Cr Crook made the comment council can accommodate it, but at what cost, how can we pay for it?” Cr Smith said.
“The council doesn’t pay one cent, ratepayers do. We are still going to have a 25-metre pool but we will have spent $12 million.”
Contractor clarifies tender details
THE company building Colac’s Bluewater Fitness Centre’s redevelopment has clarified its bid for the $12-million project.
Colac Otway Shire Council must find extra cash for the Bluewater pool and stadium upgrade after the council’s initial estimates of the project’s cost fell up to $2 million short of the best tender.
BDH director Henry Bongers said the council chose his Colac company for the redevelopment because it offered the best price.
“BDH Constructions have not changed their price post-tender or post-contract,” Mr Bongers said.
“We tendered the project and won it fair and square. We were the best price,” he said.
“We have signed the contracts with the council and our prices have not changed since the signing of those contracts.
“The budget issue is the council’s issue, not BDH’s issue.
“We were unaware of it until after the contracts were signed,” Mr Bongers said.
The council will have an internal inquiry to determine how its previous budget estimates for the project fell short of the actual cost.