Bega Valley Shire Council has rejected claims of “double dipping” on pools funding made by a former Mayor and General Manager at a recent public meeting.
Council is in the midst of testing the communities response to a ‘Special Rate Variation’ (SRV) to pay for the maintenance of the Shire’s six public swimming pools as well as fund new and upgraded facilities in the future.
Roughly speaking Council currently spends $1.382 million per year to operate pools at Cobargo, Bega, Bemboka, Candelo, Pambula and Eden. Pool revenue accounts for 40% of that.
To do everything, including build new replacement pools, Council says they need just over $2 million per year or an increase in total income of 11% per annum.
The SRV Council is proposing adds up to an extra $146.82 a year per household based on a land value of $204,000.
Six public meetings have been held to pitch the idea inconjuction with broader telephone surveys and an online questionnaire via Council’s website which last week had attracted over 400 responses.
Monday’s (September 30) meeting in Bega attracted a good crowd and has been described as lively by those who attended but also necessarily rigorous given what’s on the agenda – prized community assets and an increase in rates.
As reported by the Merimbula News Weekly, former Mayor Michael Britten and former General Manager David Jesson both attended and raised questions around an existing SRV designed in part to pay for pools.
“The SRV approved in council’s 2008/09 operational plan covered a number of items, including “recreation buildings and pools,” the MNW reports of the discusssion.
“In its first year of implementation it amassed $70,000, but by 2017/18 $90,024 was collected from ratepayers. It is an ongoing SRV which attracts compound interest.”
No explaniton from Council was included in the report of the meeting.
In response to questions from Region Media, Council’s General Manager Leanne Barnes has labelled claims of “double dipping” as inaccurate.
“And we’re concerned it could mislead the community on the nature of the proposed new SRV on the six pools strategy, coming up for consideration by council next month,” she says.
“Every year Council budgets the income we receive to cover the costs of operating and maintaining the many and varied assets we own and manage, including the pools.
“How this budget pie is sliced every year will vary depending on the elected Council at the time. Every year additional costs outweigh the rates revenue raised through the rate peg increase and a fine balancing is undertaken.
“The proposed new Special Rates Variation would guarantee that the funds needed for the ongoing operation and upgrades to the pools are secure into the future and not dependent on the elected Council of the day to determine what slice of the budget pie is allocated to pools.
“We are not seeking to continue to budget for pools out of the general fund as well as apply the new SRV.
“The regulated nature of the SRV funding ensures that for perpetuity this money can only be spent on pools.
“A dedicated SRV will free up the funds we currently budget for pools for other critical infrastructure assets such as roads and bridges.”
Ms Barnes accepts the 2008/2009 SRV was in part directed towards the shire’s pools but “the raising of small amounts which cannot make a noticeable difference is what the Council is trying to avoid by being specific and ringfencing funds raised by the pools SRV.”
“The pools have indeed benefited over the years from this earlier SRV through, for example, smaller asset renewals like shade covers, but it is not nearly enough to fund the operations and upgrades for the Shire’s six pools into the future based on modern standards.”
To review the Bega Valley Swimming Pools Strategy Discussion Paper for yourself and provide feedback vistit Council’s website. Residents have until 20 October to provide comment.
Councilors will have the final say with regard to a Special Rate Variation at their November 20 meeting.