Cr Wilson clashes with council chief over sport hub costings

UPGRADE: The Memorial Oval grandstand needs to be upgraded, possibly at a cost of more than $100,000, according to a councillor. Work in the foreground is continuing on the irrigation system for the oval.
UPGRADE: The Memorial Oval grandstand needs to be upgraded, possibly at a cost of more than $100,000, according to a councillor. Work in the foreground is continuing on the irrigation system for the oval.

A councillor has contacted The Recorder to continue his attack on the Port Pirie Regional Council administration over sport hub costings.

Cr Neville Wilson spoke after the council decided to spend $21.7 million on the development at Memorial Oval and the swimming centre.

But council chief executive officer Andrew Johnson responded to Cr Wilson’s criticism on Thursday by labelling it “false and misleading”.

The drama began on Wednesday when a special meeting heard Cr Wilson say the project was an “extreme Taj Mahal” for which “no income stream has been identified”.

He said initial talks with tenders had resulted in a $40 million estimate for the development and this was not shared with the chamber.

“It is a wonderful project, but it costs too much. I would not touch it with a barge pole,” he said.

Next day, Cr Wilson said again that on top of the $21.7 million approved for the project, there was a contingency fund of $1 million, architects’ fees of $1 million and at least $600,000 in fit-out costs to the swimming and recreational site of the hub and in upgrading the heritage grandstand at the oval.

He said future capital spending by the council would be “eroded” by loan repayments on the project.

“We were gagged on moving amendments to the recommendation because it was decided to bring on the matter for a vote. This over-rides everything else,” he said.

He had wanted Dr Johnson to report within a week on the extra costs.

Dr Johnson told the meeting that he took “grave offence” at Cr Wilson’s inaccurate comments.

He later told The Recorder that some of the fit-out costs and the contingency fund had not yet been resolved by council.

“Council is still to consider them and whether they go ahead,” he said.

He said Cr Wilson was “getting a bit carried away” with his latest comments.

“Last night, we were just looking at construction costs,” he said.

He said original estimates for the project had been at $40 million, but included features deemed unnecessary.

It had been brought down to $30 million, then to the $21.7 million approved by elected members.

“It was a mammoth effort,” he said.

During the special meeting, Cr Alan Zubrinich told the chamber that the “best financial brains in the state” had given the project a “tick of approval”.

“I look forward to it and our children’s children are going to appreciate what is going on,” he said.

Cr Kendall Jackson said she wanted to be excited about the proposal, but felt “like we have been locked into a corner and there is no way out”.

She said if the indoor heated children’s pool was axed to save money, it would deprive the community of an asset.

Cr Jackson suggested there could be savings on the approved cost as a result of the tender process.

“We can hope that would be the case,” she said.