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Church Gets Full Fee Waiver

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FLASHBACK: Peace Lutheran Hall at Benair before it was sold and moved to the Sunshine Coast earlier this year; the hall was built from ex-army buildings shifted from Gregory Terrace in 1958

November 26, 2018

Kumbia’s Lutheran congregation has secured a concession from Council over the removal of the Peace Lutheran Hall from its former home at Benair.

At November’s Council meeting, Councillors heard the congregation entered into a contract with a buyer last year to move the hall to the Sunshine Coast, and requested a development approval from Council.

Council issued the approval in October 2017, and billed the group the standard fee of $1095.

The approval was based on the fact removal of the Hall – an ex-army building – would not impact the historical significance of the block, which houses the graves of many of Benair’s pioneering families.

The approval was also granted in advance of the group paying the application fee because the congregation were under a contractual obligation to obtain all necessary approvals by a fixed date.

Afterwards, Council issued a revised invoice for 50 per cent of the fee ($547) in recognition the congregation was a not-for-profit group.

But later the group requested the charge be dropped entirely, saying they had been told there would be “no future costs” should anything change on the site.

The group said it was this assurance that had persuaded them to agree to have the site listed on the Council’s Local Heritage Register in 2016.

Council officers recommended the request for a 100 per cent fee waiver be turned down.

This was partly because the group had already received a 50 per cent waiver in accordance with Council’s normal policy, and partly because the congregation had generated income from the sale that benefited its own members but not the region’s community at large.

Cr Terry Fleischfresser said he would support the officers’ recommendation because he was worried agreeing to waive the entire fee would set a precedent for other buildings listed in the Local Heritage Register.

“This is a straightforward process,” Cr Fleischfresser said.

“The entire site is listed in the Register, not individual pieces of it.

“So when anything happens to a site (listed on the Register) it will trigger a Development Application, and this was made clear when the Register was put together.”

Cr Fleischfresser said he was concerned that not agreeing to the officers’ recommendation would create a difficult precedent for the future, and because of this there was no other option but to refuse the church’s request.

However, Cr Ros Heit disagreed.

“I agree with a lot of what Cr Fleischfresser says. We have precedents, policies and rules and we have to stick with them,” Cr Heit said.

“But the reason we have a Council is to assess these sorts of decisions and say: Has this been fair or unfair?

“In this particular situation, I do think it is unfair to stick with the policy because the Register was only put together two years ago and it seems clear from the information the congregation has provided to us that they were clearly told there would not be a charge.

“They asked: Will this cost us anything to be on the Register? And they had a choice about whether to be on the Register or not.

“They chose to be on the Register to promoter the South Burnett and were assured there would be no cost to do it. So for that reason I think we should make an exception to the policy in this case.”

Cr Danita Potter agreed with Cr Heit.

“Yes, I’m all for this one because I think they were given incorrect information and I’m under the impression from the conversations I’ve had with the church that they would not have agreed to be on the Register if they’d known this was going to happen,” Cr Potter said.

Cr Jones also agreed, if for slightly different reasons.

“I take on board what Cr Heit and Cr Potter have both said, and what I gather is that the understanding of the church group was that there would be no costs down the track,” Cr Jones said.

“I would have liked to have seen this delegated to the CEO because we’ve probably spent five times this amount on staff costs processing this. So I support the motion and I don’t think we’re going to set a precedent.”

Cr Duff joined the discussion as well.

“This came to us – not the CEO – because this matter falls outside the policy and we’re here to make decisions on these types of things.”

Corporate Services General Manager Peter O’May explained what Cr Duff was referring to was that Council officers had delegated authority to waive 50 per cent of the development application fee because the congregation was a non-profit community group and this was normal Council policy.

However, the request for a full fee waiver was outside the policy, and this put it out of the hands of both the staff and CEO.

The officers’ recommendation was then put to a vote and defeated 5-1, with Cr Fleischfresser opposed.

After this, a new motion to grant a 100 per cent fee waiver in this particular case because of confusion surrounding the Local Heritage Register listing was proposed by Cr Danita Potter, seconded by Cr Ros Heit and carried 5-1.

Mayor Keith Campbell – who had absented himself from the chamber while the matter was debated due to a conflict of interest – returned to the room after votes were cast.

[Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the result of this debate. apologises for the error and any confusion our first report may have caused.]

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