By Casey Neill
Yarra Ranges Councillors knocked back an opportunity to apply for $4 million for a Powelltown project.
At their Tuesday 13 November meeting, they debated a proposal for the Powelltown Community Sporting Precinct Development project.
The Federal Government gave them the opportunity to apply for dollar-for-dollar funding through the Building Better Regions Fund.
The report proposed the council give in-principle support to allocating $4 million, to gain $4 million from the fund.
Environment and engineering director Mark Varmalis said $3 million would fund a new pavilion, $4 million would tie into the Warburton Mountain Bike Destination Project, and $1 million would fund project management.
Powelltown Football Netball Club president Peter Podolinsky said current facilities had no change rooms for netballers, umpire change rooms that could only be accessed through the home side’s rooms, inadequate space for feeding players after training, a canteen too small to cater for match attendees, and no capacity to support women’s football.
“I think it’s a great thing for our community and our valley,” he said.
Councillor Mike Clarke said the council did need to do something for Powelltown.
“My main concern is the extent of the funding required in this case,” he said.
“There needs to be more information to support this in the form of a feasibility study.”
He said the opportunity to apply for the funding had come at short notice.
“We just don’t have a good feel for the number of residents that are going to benefit from this,” he said.
“Is this a viable amount of money to contribute to a small number of residents?”
Cr Len Cox said he was surprised by the item and there’d been very little, if any, discussion about it.
“I’m not at all sure what it’s all about,” he said.
“I thought we might have had a run-up to this before it came to a council meeting.
“I’m just very surprised that this is on the agenda tonight.”
Cr Fiona McAllister said the council had budgeted about $1.4 million for a pavilion at the precinct, and confirmed through Mr Varmalis that the project was number two on the council’s priority list.
But said she felt like the council was making decisions on the fly, and this would be a substantial spend.
She said she saw the need for a Poweltown pavilion and supported it, but “it does my head in” that the federal government had offered them this funding with strings attached on short notice.
“It puts us as a council in a very untenable position,” she said.
“Why not just give us $10 million extra a year to projects we’ve determined as apriority for our community?
“It pains me greatly not to support this.
“But I do not support what I consider poor governance and us being forced to make decisions without enough information, and without community discussion.”
An infuriated Cr Terry Avery agreed.
“It is a worthwhile project, it just irritates me the way it’s been done. I can’t support it,” he said.
But new Mayor Tony Stevenson said the proposal offered an opportunity to expand the footprint of the mountain bike hub to take Powelltown in as an alternative location.
“It’s an opportunity to inject visitation into small community,” he said.
He said the council was voting on making an in-principle decision to seek funding.
“It will only proceed to reality if can put up a business case as a council to satisfy the Federal Government,” he said.
Cr Richard Higgins said this was an “opportunity to actually get some money” for a project near the top of the council priority list.
“We don’t get these opportunities all the time,” he said.
“That money will hopefully free up some money for something else in our shire that isn’t in the growth area that gets the extra funding (through the Building Better Regions Fund).
“If we were to turn away this money at this moment, I wonder if we’d get it next year.”
Crs Stevenson, Higgins and Noel Cliff voted in favour, but lost to no-voters Crs Cox, McAllister, Avery and Clarke.