COMMUNITIES across South Gippsland are being asked to place a value on their public swimming facilities. Do they want the shire council to fork out for upgrades of ageing pools, possibly at the expense of other shire facilities? Are they willing to pay more in their rates in order to improve their community swimming pools and encourage people to attend?
September 9 is the deadline for submissions on the newly released draft Strategic Direction for Aquatic Facilities in South Gippsland July 2011.
It took almost an hour of heated debate at its meeting last Wednesday afternoon for South Gippsland Shire Council to decide to release the draft strategy. Even then, with Cr Mimmie Jackson absent due to ill health, Mayor Warren Raabe’s casting vote was necessary to achieve a majority (5-4) in favour of releasing the strategy as it stands. An alternative motion, put forward by Cr David Lewis, calling for the strategy to be revised, was narrowly defeated. Each of the eight councillors present at the meeting took the opportunity to present their point of view.
The nub of the problem for the four councillors – David Lewis, Bob Newton, Kieran Kennedy and Jennie Deane – who argued for the strategy to be revised was the proposal that Council treat venues differently according to their attendance figures.
The strategy proposes that future capital investment and grant applications should focus on extensions and upgrades at the three higher attendance venues (SG SPLASH, Korumburra and Toora pools).
It proposes that Council maintain its investment in the Foster, Mirboo North and Poowong pools, but focus on maintaining the current level of service through critical infrastructure preservation, rather than extension/upgrade. The onus will be on the respective communities to raise funds for upgrading or extending these pools.
“We need to change this idea that we’ll treat citizens in some areas different from citizens in other parts,” said Cr Lewis.
“You’ll get three towns where people will think, quite rightly, that they have been gravely discriminated against,” agreed Cr Kennedy. “I know we have had more briefings on this than any other matter, but I will be supporting this amendment [revising the strategy] because the communities will be on a level playing field.”
Cr Deane acknowledged that visitation figures for some of the pools were low, but said that to encourage people to attend them – by introducing hot showers and spas, for instance, which many people moving to South Gippsland from Melbourne expect to see at a pool – would cost money. She said that swimming was very important to the health of families and people generally, especially as an alternative to competitive sport.
“We can’t abrogate our responsibilities. It’s worth supporting the pools to bring back the usage. These pools deserve another chance,” said Cr Deane.
Councillors Mohya Davies, Jim Fawcett, Jeanette Harding and Warren Raabe expressed an alternative viewpoint, although it was clear that they were torn.
Cr Fawcett said it was important to be “open, honest and transparent” with the community. Commenting that “the cost of maintenance and infrastructure at all our pools is incredibly significant,” he was all for setting the figures before the public and letting people have their say. “Then maybe we can adjust the strategy.”
Certainly, the figures contained in the Aquatic Strategy make disturbing reading, particularly the cost per user at each pool, after income, operations, maintenance and attendance are taken into account. The costs per user for 2010/11 were as follows: $3.15 at SG SPLASH, $8.63 at Korumburra Pool, $13.84 at Toora Pool, $17.80 at Mirboo North Pool, $24.51 at Foster Pool and $29.67 at Poowong Pool. Of course, as several councillors noted, it was a particularly cold summer, not conducive to swimming in outdoor pools. It was also pointed out by councillors such as Mohya Davies that costs are expected to rise as occupational health and safety regulations become more stringent and two lifeguards, for instance, will be required on duty at all times, rather than just one.
“What we are currently paying is more than the community can afford,” said Cr Davies, pointing out that pools swallow 25 per cent of the shire’s annual building budget.
Admitting she would be moved to tears if her local pool – Foster – closed, she said that nevertheless this was not the time to be making changes to a strategy which had been extensively worked on – probably more than any other.
“If it’s costing more than $24 for each person to go to the Foster Pool we have to do something about it…It’s tough, but we have to do something.”
She said the big question for Council was the balance between asset management and service level provision.
“We have ageing infrastructure and we have to face up to the issues. A reasonable council can no longer ignore the high ongoing costs but must consider the long term financial implications. What we are currently paying is more than the community can afford.”
Cr Davies said that the strategy gave the community a snapshot of the situation, and more detail can be found in the King report on the website. She said that the consultation process will include public briefings where community members have the opportunity to look at the document, consider the implications and have their say.
Cr Raabe echoed Cr Davies’ reluctance to change a report that had already been worked on extensively.
He said that South Gippsland Shire is much more fortunate than many other neighbouring shires in the number of its public swimming pools and their proximity.
He said the shire does not have the money to replace six pools and he saw the three pool model as being “quite generous to our community.”
“It’s a good thing that we get out to the community and start talking about the truth behind the financial situation,” he added.
Cr Fawcett concluded the debate, saying, “Hard choices need to be made all the time. Let’s hear what the communities have to say.”
Meetings with each of the pool committees as well as public meetings have been scheduled. The schedule of public meetings is as follows:
- Tuesday 9 August at 7.30 pm – Poowong Hall;
- Thursday 11 August at 7.30 pm – Korumburra – Community Room (Behind Library);
- Tuesday 16 August at 7.30 pm – Toora – Venue to be confirmed;
- Thursday 18 August at 7.30 pm – Foster – Venue to be confirmed;
- Tuesday 23 August at 7.30 pm – Mirboo North – Venue to be confirmed;
- Thursday 25 August at 7.30 pm – Leongatha – Venue to be confirmed.
Council wants to hear what the whole community thinks about the proposed strategic direction for aquatic facilities in the shire before it makes significant decisions about investments for its pools.
An electronic copy of the Strategic Directions is available from Council’s website at www.southgippsland.vic.gov.au (refer to the link on the home page) and hard copies are available at Council’s Leongatha office, libraries and at the Welshpool Rural Transaction Centre.
A copy of the document can also be posted by contacting Council reception on 5662 9200.
Written submissions will be received until 5pm, Friday 9 September 2011.
For further information, please contact Council’s Recreational Coordinator Ian Murphy on 5662 9231.
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