November 26, 2020
by Dafyd Martindale
The rapid expansion of the budget for Kingaroy’s streetscape project should make ratepayers nervous.
Speaking in general, any significant project that sees its estimated cost blow out by more than 20 per cent in a matter of months is one that is either poorly planned, poorly managed or – even worse – both.
The annals of project management are full of failed projects where rapid budget expansion turned out to be the first warning sign there was major trouble ahead.
This is a glaring red light all project proponents ignore at their peril.
So it is deeply troubling to find the majority of our elected Councillors do not appear to share that concern.
At November’s General Meeting, they voted against subjecting the Kingaroy project’s budget to any sort of detailed, forensic examination – a process that would have held things up by just a month.
Instead, they voted to push ahead immediately, then threw a further $300,000 into the streetscape’s already expanding budget for good measure.
Two things are particularly chilling about this decision.
One is that it was made in the shadow of neighbouring Gympie Regional Council’s recent (mis)adventures with big infrastructure projects, which managed to reduce its finances from generally excellent to an almost smoking ruin in just one term.
And the other is that it was pushed through with what appears to be very little thought.
Mayor Brett Otto and Crs Kathy Duff and Kirstie Schumacher all argued that while they were in favour of the project, they were concerned they hadn’t been supplied with detailed project costings.
They were very concerned that substantial project contributions by Main Roads and Ergon have not yet been bedded down.
And they were even more concerned that if these organisations fail to deliver on their commitments, ratepayers would be forced to make up the multi-million dollar shortfall in addition to the many millions Council has already committed.
All three also feared things could take a rapid turn for the worse when workers begin digging up Kingaroy’s streets.
Mayor Otto said it was an “unknown”.
The reason? Kingaroy is built on a swamp and much of its underground infrastructure dates back as far as WWII.
Several other recent building projects (eg: Kingaroy police station, Kingaroy Courthouse and the Markwell Street upgrade) discovered this …
And what would be the result for ratepayers if these “unknowns” prove to very expensive? Steep rate rises further down the road and/or future projects currently planned for other towns either delayed or abandoned.
Councillors Gavin Jones, Scott Henschen, Danita Potter and Roz Frohloff argued the opposite view.
They claimed the project would never be cheaper than it is today; that the town needed a psychological boost; that previous major project cost blowouts had come from inadequate scoping (ie. doing a poor job of pre-planning); and …well, er … that’s kind of it.
Deputy Mayor Gavin Jones told the meeting he thought the Kingaroy Transformation Project was the best developed and best scoped plan he’d seen during his time on Council.
While he admitted it was a highly risky undertaking, Cr Jones said he was confident there would be plenty of opportunities to find extra funds to make up for any unplanned cost blowouts over the coming three budget periods the project will span.
In the end, the team arguing for prudence and an extra month to dig into the data lost the vote, and the team arguing for damning the torpedoes and steaming ahead won.
We will now all have to wait and see how this works out.
But if it works out badly – and if history is any guide, it probably will – ratepayers should be in no doubt who voted for this approach and who, in the end, is ultimately responsible for whatever outcomes we arrive at.
- Related article: Kingaroy Project Hits $13.9m