Wattle Range refuses to co-fund airport upgrade

WATTLE Range Council has unanimously rejected a last minute bid to contribute to the multi-million dollar Mount Gambier Airport Redevelopment Project.

District Council of Grant chief executive Trevor Smart, airport manager Ian Fritsch and economic development advisor Mike Ryan attended Tuesday’s monthly meeting seeking support for the $9.2m project.

The project will see the runway lengthened an additional 120 metres and airfield ground lighting and terminal upgrades result in increased passenger, freight and larger charter aircraft capacity.

Mr Smart told elected members Grant council was seeking $3.6m in project commitment funding from the Federal Government through the Building Better Regions Fund, with the State Government pledging $4m to the upgrade.

Grant has set aside $1.1m for the project from its airport reserve fund, leaving a shortfall of $330,000.

Mr Smart said council was looking to keep its Federal Government ask below 50pc of the total project cost to increase the chance of funding.

“We can increase our share to some extent, but also increase the requested Federal Government share to 45pc,” he said.

However, Wattle Range councillors raised concerns with Grant council’s contribution in the reserve fund was raised through the airport’s $9.90 passenger tax and not through rate revenue.

“That funding is secured profits made over the years,” Mr Smart said.

“Council itself is not putting in any dollars.”

Wattle Range Mayor Peter Gandolfi said it would be “irresponsible” for council to contribute to capital projects in other council areas.

“Grant council ratepayers are not making a contribution to this at all,” he said.

“Furthermore, the money being used is derived from commercial activities at the airport.

“In that case, if Wattle Range ratepayers are using that airport, proportionally we’re already making a contribution.

Cr Rob Thornett said it was “fairly short-sighted” for council to rule out contributing to the project, citing potential tourism and economic benefits.

“The amount we contribute is a matter for discussion, but I do not think we should be closing the door,” he said.

“People will travel to other areas apart from Mount Gambier, of course Mount Gambier would be the first stop but I think people travelling by air would travel throughout the region.”

Deputy Mayor Rob Dycer said it was council’s core responsibility to support ratepayers within Wattle Range.

“If we start supporting other councils and state and federal government, our ratepayers are not going to be happy,” he said.

“I do not see any of the other councils funding the Penola Bypass and that is a major transport corridor.

“We have got a council area and we call on our ratepayers to support us with everything we do.

“We cannot support other councils for everything otherwise we might as well give it all up and just be one.”

Cr Dale Price moved to write a letter to support Grant’s federal funding bid.

“Until the airport is upgraded, we will never know the benefits we might derive from it,” he said.

“I suspect we actually benefit from the airport.

“Currently we’re in the ideal position where we do not contribute a dollar to it unless we use it.”

Mount Gambier City Council moved to contribute $500,000 to the project at a special meeting on the same night.