The Mirror News

People power hands pools a lifeline

THE communities of South Gippsland are to keep their pools for the foreseeable future. Even Foster Pool, the future of which has been under a cloud as a result of low attendances triggering a review and forcing the ditching of a Master Plan, will continue to operate via the current YMCA management contract for the next two seasons.

Through the OurSay community engagement process, in which the pools at Foster and Mirboo North gathered the most votes for Budget expenditure, through petitions and presentations, letters and surveys, South Gippsland Shire Council has been left in no doubt as to the high value ratepayers place on their pools.

Heeding the message, at the meeting last Wednesday Council adopted a revised Aquatic Strategy which recommends that Council continues to support six pools in the shire – unheated outdoor pools at Foster, Mirboo North, Korumburra and Poowong, a heated pool at Toora and the indoor heated SPLASH complex at Leongatha.

A revision of the 2012/2016 Aquatic Strategy, the Final Strategic Direction for Aquatic Facilities in South Gippsland 2015-2020 recommends establishing Pool Support Groups to replace the current Section 86 special committees, with the intention of strengthening the partnership between Council, local communities and pool operators.

The Revised Strategy allows for the possibility of transferring a pool to community ownership and management, but warns of the pitfalls and clarifies that Council would have no ongoing management role in a pool that was transferred to community ownership.

Specifically in relation to Foster Pool, there is acknowledgement, in the Revised Strategy, of the work of the Foster community in developing a ‘Vision for Foster Pool.’ This ‘Vision,’ presented to Council last November, asked that community ownership and management be considered if the alternative was to close the pool.

The ‘Vision for Foster Pool’ was considered as part of a review of Foster Pool carried out by shire officers, whose recommendations were also voted on by Council at Wednesday’s meeting. Council voted to maintain the YMCA management contract for the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons and advise the Foster Pool Working Group accordingly, but consider a community management and ownership model for the pool for possible implementation after that. Council noted that there are adequate capital funds in the 15 year long term financial plan to ensure that Foster Pool can continue to operate.

There was unanimous support for these recommendations.

Coastal-Promontory Ward Councillor Mohya Davies noted that she felt “very relieved as their councillor that we know that Foster Pool is to be resourced into the future”. She said she had some concerns about the clause relating to community ownership/management but she believed the community would only want the community management option if Council didn’t want the pool. She paid tribute to the Foster Pool Working Group and committee for their “extraordinary” work and reminded them that the YMCA would need a very strong Friends group.

Cr Kieran Kennedy said it would come as a relief for the Foster Pool committee. “They have fought and fought, and they have probably given the most presentations. Hopefully, there will be plenty of volunteers to help run the pool.”

Cr Lorraine Brunt said she encouraged Foster Pool to keep going with the support of Council for the next few years. She warned that with ever more rules and regulations, the running of a pool was very expensive and should only be considered by a community as a last resort. The Foster community, she said, had been given an opportunity to prove their pool should stay open. “I wish Foster well!” she said.

The debate on the Revised Aquatic Strategy was far less straightforward. The Strategy was eventually passed, but only after a prolonged period of argy-bargy as Cr Jim Fawcett did his best to thwart Cr Don Hill’s attempts to introduce an amendment to the original motion.

Cr Hill took exception to how trigger points for pool reviews were set. Mirboo North Pool, he felt, was being unfairly penalised for having improved its attendance figures in recent years and now had an unfairly high attendance trigger point.

“The Revised Strategy is very thorough, and a vast improvement on the previous Strategy, but the trigger point for attendance is the most inequitable thing I could imagine,” he railed.

Cr McEwen agreed, saying it was “an issue of equity”.

“Nothing is equitable in the pool space,” retorted Cr Davies. She pointed out that in the original Strategy Foster Pool’s average attendance figures had been drawn from a season when the Great Victorian Bike Ride came through Foster and the pool saw an unusually large number of patrons. Furthermore, she said, Foster and Poowong Pools had smaller grounds so could not hold community events (and count the patrons even if they did not swim) in the same way as the pools at Mirboo North and Toora.

Cr Hill tried to foreshadow an amendment, which would reduce the attendance trigger points for Mirboo North and Toora Pools, but he was outwitted by Cr Fawcett, who drew upon his extensive knowledge of meeting procedures to thwart Cr Hill’s every attempt, growing increasingly frustrated by Cr Hill’s persistence. After several times declaring the amendment “out of order” and appealing to the mayor for support, Cr Fawcett fumed that there were too many “points of order” interrupting council meetings. He said that it was “interesting” the debate followed on from discussion of Council’s poor results in the Community Satisfaction Survey. “We reap what we sow,” he mused. He said that Cr Hill could move his amendment if the original motion failed, but not otherwise. In the end it did not come to that, with only Cr McEwen voting with Cr Hill against the Revised Strategy.


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