27 September 2019

What's your local pool worth? Bega Valley looks to rate rise to pay for it

| Ian Campbell
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Bega Pool

A busy Bega Pool. Photo: Ian Campbell

Some tough choices ahead as Bega Valley Shire Council looks to give the region’s six swimming pools a future.

The community is being asked to consider an increase in rates that would not just maintain pools at Bega, Bemboka, Candelo, Cobargo, Eden, and Pambula but deliver upgrades in the future.

Perhaps deeper than the water these pools hold is the connection they have with the communities around them – a point that Council seems to understand but is struggling to pay for.

Council’s Aquatic and Leisure Facilities Coordinator, Nic Hoynes says that ahead of Bega Pool opening in 1962, the hole was dug by hand and “people went door to door collecting 10-pound donations.”

“Pools are really important to us and the community,” he says.

Similar stories are attached to each of the shire’s pools – all are the result of fundraising efforts.

“We are absolutely mindful of the work people have done to date, but the cost of maintaining six pools means we don’t have the funds to build new ones,” Mr Hoynes says.

With that in mind, Council is now seeking feedback from the community on the future of public pools across the Shire.

Mark and Zoe Philipzen took over the management of this community-owned pool four years ago. Photo: Ian Campbell

Mark and Zoe Philipzen leading swim squad sessions at Bega Pool. Photo: Ian Campbell

Based on earlier feedback, Council is currently committed to having six pools.

It’s Swimming Pools Discussion Paper looks to find a way to make that so, and as council says “maximise opportunities for the community and visitors to participate and enjoy facilities that meet legislative and compliance requirements and have pools that are operating at modern standards.”

Council’s General Manager, Leanne Barnes, says “Our six public swimming pools were built over the last 60 years and with two facilities (Bega, Cobargo) due for renewal in the next ten years, as well as managing smaller cost asset renewals across the remaining four sites, Council has significant decisions to make – including how to continue to fund our pools into the future.”

The Discussion Paper has been developed to advance the community conversation and inform the final decision by Councilors.

“As a part of this discussion, we are looking at funding models to keep our commitment to maintaining our six pools,” Ms Barnes says.

How much do six pools cost to run each year?

The short answer from Council is $1.382 million per year, pool revenue accounts for 40% of that.

Current costs do not take in major facility renewals.

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.

To get there Council is proposing an increase in rates via a Special Rate Variation (SRV).

This increase would be ongoing and would be money specifically directed towards the six pools. Similar to an existing number of SRV’s that roughly speaking currently fund Merimbula Airport, libraries, the regional gallery, roads, weed control, bridges, tourism marketing and assets, and emergency services.

Not that you’d know any of that looking at your rates notice – which is another story.

“The average increase on individual ratepayers would be $2.82 per household per week,” Ms Barnes says, based on a land value of $204,000, that’s a rate increase of $146.82 per year.

“Every property will be different as the calculations for rates depends on the property valuation.”

"People feel like this is there second home," - Zoe. Photo: Ian Campbell.

“People feel like this is there second home,” – Zoe. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Using grant funds from the State or Commonwealth Governments to replace Bega and Cobargo pools in the first instance was described as not being secure or sustainable by Mr Hoynes.

“If we only rely on grants we won’t meet our needs,” he says referring to ongoing operational costs.

Council says a thorough community information and consultation program is being implemented that will include community information sessions, the establishment of dedicated webpages, formal public exhibition periods, a rates calculator, an independent phone survey, the distribution of information through Council’s social media channels, the Council News publication and local media.

Councilors will have the final say with regard to a Special Rate Variation at their November 20 meeting.

The future of these places of health, fitness, community, and fun hangs in the balance. Each pool has a 60-year life expectancy, which for Bega ends in 2023, Cobargo 2020, Eden 2040, Bemboka 2041, Candelo 2056, Sapphire Aquatic Centre 2070.

Whether these pools are replaced or closed when these dates roll around is the very real and hard question that will be decided in the coming weeks.

Bega Valley Shire Council will host a number of community information sessions as part of the process:

• Cobargo Hall – Monday, September 16;
• Eden Log Cabin – Tuesday, September 17;
• Pambula Hall – Monday, September 23;
• Bemboka Hall – Tuesday, September 24;
• Bega Commemorative Civic Centre – Monday, September 30;
• Candelo Hall – Wednesday, October 2.

All start at 5:30 pm, to get a head start you can view the Swimming Pools Strategy Discussion Paper and provide your feedback now via Council’s website. Comment closes on October 20.

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