November 5, 2020
Gympie Regional Council can’t afford the maintenance of its “beautiful” aquatic centre or the $2 million annual bill to keep the Mary Valley Rattler running, Mayor Glen Hartwig admitted on Thursday.
Speaking in Kingaroy at a breakfast organised by the Kingaroy Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mayor Hartwig said the situation at the GRC had been “drastic” when he was elected Mayor in March.
He said the Council had lost the trust of both the local Chamber of Commerce and the local community, and its planning department had a “how can we hinder” attitude rather than a “how can we help”.
He said the GRC was now in a process of rebuilding that trust.
An independent review of Council’s financial accountability had been “horrendous”, Mayor Hartwig said.
“Any business owner would want to neck themselves after they read it,” he said.
“So we are in a process of rebuilding.
“We have to rebuild trust with our community. We have to rebuild trust with the Chamber.
“We have to start to spend our money wisely.”
Mayor Hartwig questioned the financial viability of both the Aquatic Centre and the Rattler.
“Sometimes when people come offering a lot of money it’s not always wise to spend it,” he said.
“I love Porsche 911s. I always have … but I can’t afford to drive one because I can’t afford the maintenance bill.
“So be careful. This is what we found in Gympie.
“We built this massive pool, a massive aquatic centre, a beautiful facility.
“It’s starting to fall apart after three years. The maintenance bill is killing us.
“We put a train in. Officially, it’s $17 million but I think we all know that’s a load of rubbish. It’s probably more in the middle 20s.
“We can’t afford it. It’s costing us $2 million a year.”
He said the local community and business had to influence local government.
“You have to have trust,” he said. “You have to know that they’re spending your money well.
“You have to know that their staff are being honest.
“How do you come out officially and say you’ve spent $17 million on a train but we all know that it was near $25 (million)?
“If you want business, particularly big business, to come and look at your area, you’d better have a council that has a sharp pencil.
“And that’s where we were failing at Gympie. We’re going through that process of rebuilding.
“If you’re a big corporation but you’ve got a local government that throws money around like a crack addict, are you going to want to invest your money there?”
He urged the business community and ratepayers to always watch their councils “like a hawk”.
“We can shuffle money around better than a croupier at a card table,” he said.
“And our organisation has done it, I can absolutely assure you of that.
“We can pull money out of one project because another one has blown (out). We can shuffle it around.
“If you don’t have a council that has its finger on the pulse and is holding their management to account, you might as well leave your wallets at the front door because your rates will go up or you’re going to have massive debt and blow out your projects.
“And that’s what we saw.
“You want honesty. You want to know that when they say it cost $2 million, it cost $2 million.”
Mayor Hartwig said Councils had to hold their staff to account.
He said Gympie Council has massive problems now because the cost of projects had blown out – with money having to be pulled out of other areas including parks and gardens and roads.
“Our roads are neglected because we pulled money out of roads,” he said.
Mayor Hartwig praised recently appointed GRC CEO Shane Gray who was working hard to turn the Council around.
“Whoever decided that he wasn’t going to work (for the South Burnett Regional Council) back in 2008 when he applied for the position, I’m ready to buy you a keg,” he said.
“He’s a sensational individual. As a CEO he has so many good qualities that we need and I believe that in four years’ time when he turns our organisation around – we’re on a very steep upward trajectory – he will be seen as a leader in CEOs in local government.”
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