Land sale out of order: Saville to GM

DOUBTS: Goulburn Mulwaree Council is buying more land to consolidate its Hetherington St depot. Cr Robin Saville has raised concerns about the process. Cr ROBIN Saville has accused the council’s general manager of exceeding his authority in making a land purchase offer.
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The matter came to a head at Tuesday’s meeting at which councillors discussed consolidation of three council depots into one.

The logistics involved purchase of a 10,420 sqm property in Hetherington St, near where the single depot would be located.

The land, just over the road to the depot’s north, would be specifically used to relocate the RFS shed, and the surplus sold off. This is turn would allow the depot’s expansion.

Operations director Matt O’Rourke reported to the meeting that a council offer of $480,000 for the parcel had been accepted, subject to councillors’ agreement and a 14-day settlement on or before December 3.

It had been placed on the market for $565,000 but the council offered a lesser amount after obtaining a valuation.

It all came as news to Cr Saville, at least. He asked Mayor Geoff Kettle whether he knew about the offer either before it was made or afterwards. “No, not before I read it in the (council meeting) report,” Cr Kettle replied.

Cr Saville said he was concerned with the process and asked general manager WarwickBennett under what authority he had acted.

Mr Bennett said it was one of the options discussed at an earlier councillor workshop.

“I understand it is normal practice for a general manager to be able to make such offers, but I don’t have the authority, and don’t pretend to have authority to purchase land without council consent,” Mr Bennett said.

“…I made it very clear (to the vendor) that this was subject to a council resolution.”

Mr Bennett argued this was not unlike the draft annual budget in which numerous line items proposed by staff were brought to councillors for a final decision. Moreover, he maintained the price would have increased if council had waited.

Cr Kettle, too, declared that in his other council activities, including on the SCA and Southern NSW Local Health District boards, purchases were regularly put forward for final sign-off.

But Cr Saville didn’t agree the workshop gave Mr Bennett the authority:

“The process was wrong. It was back to front,” he told the meeting.

“The GM should not have made an offer on land, leaving council in ignorance. I am very concerned about the probity of this and have expressed this to the Mayor.”

He said he’d considered the potential advantages of one depot, following on from the workshop. But he believed the “significant” costs outweighed the benefits, especially when “so much was unknown over the next 12 months, with council reform.”

“Further, this is the old story of government: centralisation followed by decentralisation and then the circle turns and we are back to centralisation. And the poor old ratepayer pays for it all,” Cr Saville said.

He told the meeting that the council was starting from the premise that the Hetherington St depot was not big enough.

“Thus, the recommendation is that we buy more land to fit everyone in,” Cr Saville said.

“So we sell land we own (the Bourke St depot) and then buy a larger block and then sell part of that land to offset costs. Why sell land in Bourke St that could well be used in future? It is valuable and central land and should be retained.”

Mr O’Rourke had proposed that three lots of the Hetherington St block could be sold off for an estimated $300,000 to offset the depot’s cost because the council didn’t need the entire parcel.

But Cr Saville said the council hadn’t even decided what to do with its Clinton St building, currently leased to Corrective Services.

“Let’s not jump the gun,” he said. “The next council can decide if rationalisation and consolidation are necessary. I will finish by saying that this council has sold a lot of property since 2012. The rationalisation has now reached council depots and I believe we should pause for breath.”

The entire project is expected to cost $3,280,000.

Councillors approved the depots’ consolidation, with Cr Saville the only dissenting vote. Cr Margaret O’Neill was an apology for the meeting

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