Three historical societies and the Merimbula Scouts and Guides have had the threat of massive rent increases removed after councillors voted unanimously to charge only the adopted minimum fee of around $560 a year.
During the course of three deputations councillors were reminded that the organisations concerned were run by volunteers and the museums housed valuable historical collections of the the Bega Valley. They were also told that almost 1000 volunteer hours were provided every month in this work.
Mayor Russell Fitzpatrick noted that councillors had received a lot of emails and calls from supporters of the historical societies and the matter had featured in local media (including ACM).
At times we get lost in what we do and need a tap on the head to say we've got this wrong and fix it and that's what we've done today.Mayor Russell Fitzpatrick speaking discussion on museums.
Cr Fitzpatrick's motion will see council enter into a formal tenure arrangement with the Bega Valley Historical Society for their occupation of the Bega Pioneers' Museum and approve further formal tenure for the Bega Valley Genealogy Society for their occupation of the Old Pambula Courthouse and Police Station building.
As Crown Land manager of the Old Merimbula School council will enter into a further five year licence agreement with the Merimbula Imlay Historical Society for their continued occupation of the Old School House and with the Merimbula Scout and Guide Associations for their occupation of the hall and section of land at the rear.
Cr Fitzpatrick admitted that the decision was "a little ad hoc" and that council didn't like "making decisions on the run" but it would give some surety around museums.
Shirley Bazley who is a volunteer with the Merimbula Imlay Historical Society welcomed the decision and said it gave certainty for the next five years.
"The news is good but there are things to be ironed out. Heritage buildings should be in a different category to other commercial council property," Ms Bazley said.
"Council has a responsible for heritage buildings whether they are rented or not."
Council said that the lease agreement for tenants of museums within the shire includes maintenance and repairs as the responsibility of the tenants.
The issues around maintenance of such heritage buildings, however are not easy. Council is cash-strapped but volunteer organisations, often with little or no access to income are not in a position to carry out major works. The Pambula Courthouse roof is leaking and there is rising damp in the building.
"Getting a grant can be difficult because the societies don't own the buildings," Ms Bazley said.
"Even getting free help can be difficult because no tradesman is allowed to work on a council-managed property unless he is registered with council and many choose not to pay the registration fee," Ms Bazley said.
Council has agreed to convene an initial meeting within six months to discuss maintenance issues.