By Raquel Mustillo
A DECISION on whether to continue operating the Millicent Saleyards has been deferred until next month, with Wattle Range Council voting to discuss the long-running issue behind closed doors before committing to its future.
At Tuesday night’s monthly meeting, council deputy mayor Moira Neagle submitted a notice of motion recommending council continue to fund the facility for the next five years.
The council-owned facility was initially slated to close on June 30, 2020 after declining throughput had made the facility unviable.
But elected members vote to give the long-running facility a 12-month lifeline through to the end of this financial year in an attempt to improve numbers.
In an impassioned five minute speech, Cr Neagle urged elected members to support the multi-part motion, which also included allocating funds in its forward budgets, to continue to maintain the saleyards to an operational standard.
A condition report identifying works required over the next five years has set the cost of necessary upgrades as $524,415 noting the ageing infrastructure did not have a proper maintenance straight to ensure compliance and longevity.
However, Cr Neagle said the report was an “indictment on previous councils” which “uncovers the fact that maintenance has not been adequate to sustain the sales for years, possibly decades.
Cr Neagle said smaller producers were highly supportive of the retention of the yards and commercial buyers indicted the Millicent facility was integral to their supply of high-quality stock.
She said financial numbers should not be the sole determining factor in addressing the decision, with council spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on other public assets “which are used either infrequently or by a very small cohort”.
A staff report showed annual financial losses have decreased in the past three financial years, with 2019/20 recording a loss of $101,839, $135,323 in 2018/19 and $180,163 in 2017/18.
The report outlined cattle throughput had increased to 10,256 in 2019/20 and grossed $13.6m over the 23 sale days.
Comparatively, cattle throughput for 2018/19 was 8206 resulting in $9.1m worth of gross sales, 8509 cattle passed through in 2017/18, contributing to $10.1M in gross sales.
Staff outlined a number of key initiatives undertaken in the past 12 months, including changing the sale day from Thursday to Wednesday during the winter period to follow the Mount Gambier sale held on Wednesday morning.
“As stock numbers decline during the winter period, sales are much shorter which enables agents and buyers to participate in two sales in the one day,” the report said. “As a result, Millicent sale days in comparison to previous years has recorded greater number through the facility and significantly better prices.
“This is a direct result of having more buyers attending the Wednesday sales during the winter period.” However, the changes and numbers did little to persuade Penola-based Councillor Rick Paltridge to retain the facility, who labelled the saleyards as “an absolute waste of money”.
He questioned the legitimacy of the figures, telling the chamber there was “so much misinformation” and said the yards were beyond the point of being able to be redeemed.
Cr Paltridge moved a motion to allow councillors to discuss the facility at council’s upcoming informal gathering and revisit Cr Neagle’s motion at the February meeting.