Council faces ratepayers over new $9m office

The average estimated cost to a ratepayer is $15 a year if Wattle Range Council decides to build a new office in Millicent at a cost of $9m.

This figure was quoted by council chief executive Ben Gower at a public information meeting lasting two hours last week at the Millicent War Memorial Civic and Arts Centre.

Mr Gower explained the proposed North Terrace project and took questions from the floor.

He explained that council had probed up to 11 potential sites before settling on North Terrace.

According to Mr Gower, the build original estimate had been well in excess of $11m.

As a result, Mr Gower said the plans were revised to achieve cost savings such as the removal of landscaping from the staff outdoor dining area and “plain” interior timber treatments in the staff work areas.

Former Beachport and Wattle Range councillor Sue Wheal said there had been inadequate consultation and this remark was greeted with a ripple of applause.

She suggested council staff could be moved into the present-day library and the public monies could instead be used for the wider community’s benefit by building a new library.

Ms Wheal queried whether council had considered the one-time Elec-Air building on Ridge Terrace as the new office site.

In reply, Mr Gower said the Elec-Air site had insufficient space and it had also come onto the market after the North Terrace site was chosen.

Beachport businessman Keith Sneath said there were rising building costs with the price of steel going up by 3%.

“The office should have been built three years ago,” Mr Sneath said.

Millicent Business Community Association chairman Lee Morgan said his group agreed that a new office was warranted as the current working conditions for the council staff were deplorable.

Quoting his Environment Protection Authority managerial experience, Mr Morgan said the Millicent rail lands were a suitable site for the office notwithstanding some soil contamination.

Mr Morgan asked whether any decision had been taken to demolish the existing office and both Mr Gower and Mayor Des Noll said no.

Deputy Mayor Councillor Moira Neagle said there had been extensive debate over the site for the new office while Cr Sharon Cox said council had to move forward and make a decision.

In attendance at the forum were Mayor Noll, nine councillors, 12 council staff and 45 members of the public.

Council engaged Mount Gambier professional trainer Di Ind to be the facilitator for the discussions.

The meeting format allowed anonymous questions to be channelled via Ms Ind.

One questioner asked if Mr Gower would be paid a bonus if the new council office met certain construction deadlines.

In reply, Mr Gower said the office construction project was part of his annual key performance indicators but bonuses were not paid in local government.

Mr Gower said council intended to employ a professional project manager, the detailed tender-ready plans were due from the architects in about four months and the decision to build would be a matter for the incoming 2022-26 council which would take office in November.

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