The decision of MidCoast Council to endorse the financial strategy for the move to Taree and consult the community on its planned relocation followed heated debate from councillors at the October monthly ordinary meeting.
The strategy indicated the $20 million project, which would see almost 350 staff move to the former Masters Hardware site, would be paid for through cash reserves, property sales and loan borrowings.
Resident, Edward Harvey made a submission to councillors in opposition of the recommendation to endorse the strategy.
Mr Harvey said the lack of transparency that had surrounded the process thus far was not in the public interest.
“Only now has community consultation been brought up, there has been a lack of opportunity for the concerned members of the public to get answers,” he said.
“The financing strategy makes it clear there will be no special rate variation required for this project, and we will not be touching any operational funds so things such as the $100 million road program will continue to be delivered to our community as planned,” general manager Adrian Panuccio, said.
Mr Panuccio outlined the $20 million would come from $7.2 million from cash reserves (funds saved from the merger), $4.8 million from the sale of property assets, and $8 million in loans.
Speaking for the recommendation,Cr Len Roberts emphasised what was being approved was the decision to exhibit the plan to the community.
“After this consultation period, the draft plan will come back to us for consideration, we are not approving or rejecting it here today,” he said.
Cr Peter Epov spoke against the recommendation, saying the design had not been “future-proofed.”
Cr David Keegan moved an amendment to defer the decision until a peer review had been completed.
“We need to move forward,” Cr Brad Christensen argued against the amendment.
Cr Epov argued for the recommendation, saying council should “do it once and get it right.”
Cr Katheryn Smith spoke against the amendment, saying she was reluctant to push back the community consultation into the Christmas period.
The amendment was lost and the original motion, moved by Cr Troy Fowler and seconded by Cr Roberts, was carried with a 7-4 majority.
MidCoast Council will now start a program of engagement with the community to gain feedback on impacts of the centralisation and the funding model.
From Monday, November 5 a range of information will be available on the council website and residents will receive information in their mailbox on the project over the coming weeks.