CONCERN and annoyance are growing as details of a footpath special charge scheme in McCrae become clearer.
The project is going ahead despite claims of overwhelming community opposition to it.
One cause of concern and bewilderment is a discount given to some residents on the grounds that their street is used via a freeway underpass by nearby residents.
That in itself is prompting questions about the rationale for the discount and why the part of the footpath cost is not being met by the residents who use the underpass route and gain a direct benefit.
An amendment introducing the discount of up to about $505 on a shire charge of $2522 – a 20 per cent price cut for some 26 property owners, less for others – was introduced without warning during discussion of the item at the 14 December council meeting.
The discount required a lift to the shire’s share of the scheme, from 34 per cent to 38.49 per cent, adding nearly $18,500 to the shire share. This sum will effectively be covered by ratepayers from all wards.
McCrae is in Seawinds ward, represented by councillors Antonella Celi, David Gibb and Graham Pittock. The discount proposal was raised by Cr Gibb by way of questions to shire officer Jeremy Grieve. Its adoption via an amended resolution was seconded by Cr Celi and won support from a majority of councillors.
Another concern is confusion over whether the shire has double-dipped in calculating the charges.
Infrastructure strategy project manager Jeremy Grieve told an objector earlier by email that the shire had taken the underpass use into consideration when explaining the shire’s 34 per cent share of the project’s cost.
Mr Grieve told Sandra Sweetland: “Given that [three connected roads] are local access roads and that the pedestrian link … links to a residential area without any further paths, a contribution of 34 per cent by the shire is considered appropriate.”
That shire share of payment has now risen by nearly five percentage points to cover the discount.
Mr Grieve answered a series of detailed questions from Cr Gibb about the discount amendment. At one point governance manager Joe Spiteri asked whether the proposed amendment emanated from a staff member or a councillor. Chief operating officer Alison Leighton said the amendment was the creation of a councillor.
The exchange highlighted a tricky area for councillors and staff, a subject dealt with by the Local Government Act and in advice from local government experts, the Municipal Association of Victoria and the Victorian Local Government Association.
Their Good Governance Guide advises against “any attempt … to influence the way a member of staff performs an important function, other than through formal council processes”.
Mr Grieve told the 14 December meeting that a typographical error had ballooned by $56,715 the shire’s share of a Rosebud project originally costed at $135,000 (“Paving, the way for protest”, The News 22/12/16).
The bill had blown out to nearly $192,000, councillors were told. The additional sum will again be picked up by the shire and covered by all ratepayers.
The McCrae project covers Beverley Rd, Coburn Av and Burrell St.
Ms Sweetland and other objectors contacted 133 of the streets’ 149 chargeable properties: 90 per cent of those who were contactable opposed the footpath, they said.
Mr Grieve’s report to councillors on 14 December stated that “39 submissions … were received representing the owners of 40 properties”. Three supported the project. Opponents comprised 26.8 per cent of the 149 properties, the report stated.
The issues objectors raised had been assessed and, “as they do not provide any substantive matters that require the scheme to be amended or abandoned, it is recommended that council … declares the charge,” the report stated.
The shire had also argued that “the paths were requested by residents in the first instance” and had a high priority in the footpath strategy.
Responding to a question from the gallery at the council meeting, Ms Leighton confirmed that the shire had received only three submissions and/or letters of support for the scheme.