Mr ANDREW FRASER ( Coffs Harbour ) ( 17:47 ): Tonight I wish to raise an issue on behalf of the Coffs Harbour City Centre Masterplan Committee. In doing so, I will read onto the record a couple of letters that were sent to me from this committee. These letters were addressed to the General Manager of Coffs Harbour City Council. The first reads:
Early this year I attended a meeting at the C.ex about their community safety corridor project which would see better lighting and CCTV cameras in the entertainment area surround the C.ex. Their application for funding required a cash contribution, and the CBD Masterplan Committee was asked for support. Unfortunately I had to inform the C.ex we couldn’t consider contributing because our true financial position is unknown.
We’ve had a significant cost blow-out on the Harbour Dr shared zone, and the total cost of the Duke St extension remains allocated to the Special Rate Variation (SRV), despite several requests to have it removed. As recently as the last minutes of the CBD Masterplan Committee, a detailed breakdown of the budget was requested, and once again we received a one page sheet with Budget and YTD totals, and no itemised transaction list. Of concern is the vague note regarding Duke St, saying “additional funding to come from other Council Budget areas.” This is not good enough.
John Rafferty, CEO of the C.ex was one of those involved in extending the SRV and has repeatedly sought details of the CBD Masterplan budget, which we’ve been unable to provide. This has obviously prompted the letter (attached) handed to me yesterday, 16 March.
The Committee has been requesting clarification of budget issues for the best part of two years now. The situation remains that we only get totals without itemised expenses which are not recorded in approved minutes. Following conversations with John, I have canvassed several other businesses identified in the letter to the General Manager dated 12 January2012, and like John, they are concerned we’re headed for a similar situation as the first SRV, where unbeknownst to them, they had been charged the full costs of a Project Manager, including a motor vehicle and on-costs, to the value of some $253,000.
Clearly, what’s happening now is not what they agreed to. Central to the negotiation of an extension to the SRV, was that CBD Landowners (the Special-Rate payers) would have a majority of votes on the committee so that no expenditure could be made without their explicit, minuted approval. That was the deal maker. All of the discussion about establishing an extension to the special rate, focused on that critical point. They did not want a situation where Council controlled the decision-making.
He goes on to say in part:
Those paying the SRV are very disappointed that the agreed Terms of Reference can also be rewritten at any time. And I think that that goes to the heart of the issue, in that Council has assumed control of the Masterplan funds. To quote a Council employee of the Masterplan Committee meeting late last year, “It’s our money (Council’s) and we can spend it on whatever we want, and we don’t need your permission”, which is clearly contrary to the conditions agreed to in setting up the extension of the SRV, nor does the statement equate to dealings with IPART where clearly the funds are to be spent on projects identified in the CBD Masterplan.
There is also correspondence here from the Chief Executive Officer of the C.ex Club:
The Special Rate Variation was presented to the owners of properties in the CBD after Coffs Harbour City Council had received an extension of the CBD Special Rate Variation for the 2012-13 rate year …
And now runs to 2017.
On behalf of the Coffs Ex Services Memorial and Sporting Club Ltd and in the view of transparency the Club requests information regarding the use of funds acquired and expended by the CBD Masterplan Committee … commencing 2013-14 until 28 February 2017.
The Coffs Ex Services Memorial and Sporting Club Ltd is concerned with the progress of the CBD Masterplan and believe that the contributions from the ratepayers for the period in question would be approximately $2.9 million.
We have a situation where council is failing to provide the information it promised to provide. In applying to the Independent Pricing and Regulation Tribunal [IPART] for that variation, they have also this week given delegated authority to the general manager to hand out a contract on the swimming pools, which has created hundreds of emails and letters to my office. I am calling on IPART and this Government to have a full investigation into the conditions of the special rate variation. There are huge question marks over it. Either the Minister for Local Government has to do it or IPART has to do it, to ensure that the money is spent where it was promised to be spent in the first place, because we are not getting a fair deal from council.