Bega Valley pools rate variation already exists

Image of the draft Bega Pool concept plan
Image of the draft Bega Pool concept plan

It is unlikely council's proposal to increase rates to cover the shire's six swimming pools will have an easy passage to approval through IPART.

Particularly given the Bega Valley Shire Council already has an existing Special Rate Variation (SRV) to cover them - a bucket of funds mentioned nowhere in the current pool strategy discussion documents.

A number of issues surfaced regarding council's proposal to apply for an SRV at the public meeting in Bega on Monday night, September 30.

These includes the lack of meetings at locations other than where the six pools are located, perceived "double dipping" on expenditure that is in part handled currently within general rates, lack of a long-term strategy should pool usage change, and no explanation of how the SRV would be used for near-term renewals.

The concerns come on top of recent news that the Candelo pool has substantial problems with the concrete render as well as a problem with the expansion joint in the 50-metre pool, which has contributed to leaks.

However, of particular concern was a point raised by former mayor Michael Britten this week that an SRV for pools has been in existence since 2008/09, raising in excess of $70,000 a year.

Details of the SRV from 208/09 covering pools and reported as part of the 2017/18 annual report of council.

Details of the SRV from 208/09 covering pools and reported as part of the 2017/18 annual report of council.

The SRV approved in council's 2008/09 operational plan covered a number of items, including "recreation buildings and pools".

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.

However, there is no mention of the SRV from 2008/09 in any of council's current discussion documents relating to its pool strategy.

There also appears to be no indication of how the money was spent in the 2017/18 annual report except to state $90,024 came in and $90,024 went out.

At Monday's meeting, council general manager Leanne Barnes said she was aware of SRVs from 2008/09, but that she would have to check details on what they were for.

David Jesson also spoke at the Monday evening meeting saying that council was "double dipping".

The proposed SRV would cover the cost of operation, maintenance and renewal of pools. However operation and maintenance is currently funded from the general rates. If a new SRV covers all three items of expenditure he questioned what would happen to the money currently being spent on operation and maintenance of pools.

He said that ratepayers were entitled to know how council would spend the money.

The question of renewals also raises another issue, that of funding a near-term expenditure to replace or renew a pool. Bega is due for renewal by 2023, but even if the SRV is applied, there will not be sufficient funds available to pay the estimated $9.5m cost of renewing the Bega pool.

Mr Britten pointed out that if Bega pool were to be renewed, usage may change in nearby surrounding areas, but there was no strategy to take into account changes in the number of people using a pool.

"At what point does a pool become financially nonviable?" he questioned.

If council is to apply for an SRV it must lodge its intention to IPART by November. IPART would require comprehensive financial back up for the proposal and a clear indication of community feeling and good consultation.

Mr Britten also pointed out that given the SRV will be based on the unimproved land value of a ratepayer's property, it is likely to have the most financial impact in Merimbula, Tathra, Tura Beach and Bermagui - all of which were not places where public meetings were held.

Mr Britten said no attempt had been made to canvas alternatives to the council resolution to maintain and upgrade six pools, regardless of use.

"That resolution is stated at the beginning and the end of the discussion paper and is presumably the ultimate intention of council, regardless of the consultation process, which to-date has been limited and poor," Mr Britten said.

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This story Bega Valley pools rate variation already exists first appeared on Bega District News.