Mayor uses casting vote to approve Cultural and Civic Space loan

A $50 million dollar loan to fund the Cultural and Civic Space project has been narrowly approved by Coffs Harbour City councillors. Photo: Coffs Harbour City Council.

 

FOLLOWING 50 minutes of contentious debate and another tied councillor vote, Coffs Harbour City Council will proceed with borrowing $50m to finance the controversial $81m Cultural and Civic Space project.

A fixed interest rate loan will be entered into between Council and the Westpac Bank for $50.265 million over 30 years.

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Further project funding will be obtained from Council asset sales ($3 million from Council’s Rose Avenue properties and Coffs Harbour Museum), T2S contribution ($10.5 million) and an interim loan ($17 million).

Cr George Cecato said it was “the right decision” and that Council could afford the loan.

“I support this recommendation because, number one, we do have a recommendation of Council to build the building, we got a signed contract,” Cr Cecato stated.

“This Council is known for delivering on big projects.

”The majority of the negativity against this project has been built because of misinformation, untrue information, and it is a real shame that we are devaluing such an important project because this is going to take Coffs Harbour to the next level.”

Cr Cecato congratulated Council staff on securing such a great loan with a fixed interest rate of around 2.45% for the project.

“The Council staff has secured a loan for 30 years, it’s such a low interest rate,” he said.

“That is an incredible achievement.”

Cr Michael Adendorff was also amazed at the quality of the loan obtained by Council and he espoused the value of cultural infrastructure.

“This project is infrastructure, infrastructure makes communities stronger and better,” Cr Adendorff stated.

“When it’s cultural infrastructure such as this then it’s sometimes hard to see where the benefit lies, but the reality is the benefit lies in our souls, it lies in what we are, it lies in what makes us human, so it’s more valuable than any other types of infrastructure.

“We’ve been waiting long and we’ve been patient, now is Coffs Harbour’s time to be proud.”

Cr Paul Amos, however, stressed that it was wrong for Council to decide on the debt at what was the final meeting of the current Council before Council was due to enter the caretaker period prior to the local government election, during which it would be unable to decide on contentious issues or approve major loans.

“I think it is just wrong for us where we’ve had five years of tenure, where we’ve had five years to put something in place, the very last meeting of our tenure we lobb the next Council with a $50 million dollar debt,” Cr Amos said.

“They (the incoming Council) should have the opportunity to see how they are going to manage that.

“I think it is the next Council’s decision, not this one’s.”

Mayor Denise Knight combated Cr Amos’ comments by stating that the issue would have been dealt with earlier if not for councillor conflict over the issue.

“It is unfortunate that it is at our last meeting, however, it wouldn’t of had to have been like this if we hadn’t had walkouts, rescission motions, objection, division by the councillors,” Mayor Knight stated.

“It would have been done a little bit sooner.”

Cr Amos replied that Council had only lost one week of discussion on the issue due to a rescission motion.

“There is no way in the world you can build any sort of argument that the conflict within this Council lost any more than one week,” he stated.

Cr Sally Townley disagreed that it was wrong for the current Council to approve the loan now and supported Council finally taking out the loan for the Cultural and Civic Space project.

“I’m happy to speak for taking out this loan to complete this project, it’s been a very long time in the making, this project has had far more scrutiny both externally and internally than probably any other Council project ever,” Cr Townley said.

“I know that for some people in the community the idea of taking on this debt seems insurmountable, but an examination of our financial position shows that we are in a position to pay it.

“I do believe that we need to get this loan in place in our last period of decision making as this Council because we’ve got the contract, they’re out there digging right now.”

Cr John Arkan spoke against the loan borrowing, particularly following Council’s decision at the Council meeting to not sell it’s administration building and Council Chambers to fund the Cultural and Civic Space project.

“Councillors, just the item before we changed a Council resolution of the civic project,” Cr Arkan stated.

“That in my mind rings bells because funds that were going to come from these buildings might not come.

“Circumstances have changed councillors.”

Councillors were again tied 4-4 when they voted on the issue, as has occurred with almost every Council vote on the Cultural and Civic Space project, with Mayor Denise Knight again forced to use her casting vote to progress the loan borrowing for the Cultural and Civic Space project.

Crs Denise Knight, Michael Adendorff, George Cecato and Sally Townley voted for the loan borrowing to proceed, and Crs Paul Amos, John Arkan, Keith Rhoades and Tegan Swan voted against.

Following the vote, Cr Arkan stated his intent to submit a rescission motion against Council’s decision to proceed with the $50 million loan for the Cultural and Civic Space, if he obtains the support of fellow opposed councillors.

As of Monday 26 July, no rescission motion had been lodged with Council.

 

By Emma DARBIN

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