Tensions flare in funding debate

MOTION DENIED: Wattle Range councillor John Drew's attempt to provide $5500 towards the Millicent Lions Club's headquarters upgrades was rejected by a majority of elected members at this week's monthly council meeting.

By Raquel Mustillo

TENSIONS flared at the December Wattle Range Council meeting as elected members split on their support of Community Infrastructure Grant recipients, with councillors labelling the application assessment method as flawed.

Standing orders were suspended on Tuesday night to allow free discussion on a staff recommendation to award grants to the value of $94,489 to the Millicent Croquet Club, the Nangwarry Museum and Community Hall, the Kalangadoo War Memorial Park and Community Sports Club and the McCorquindale Park Committee.

Debate raged for more than an hour on a staff recommendation as councillors also considered a second recommendation to approve a $150,000 increase to its loan guarantee for the Millicent and District International Basketball Association – raising the total to $240,000.

Councillor John Drew sought to include an allocation for the Millicent Lions Club for its $57,912 shed meeting room and storage extension project after a request for $20,000 towards the project was unsuccessful.

Cr Drew, who is also a member of the club, suggested the remaining funds from council’s $100,000 scheme be provided to the service club.

“I am absolutely positive we must stick to the $100,000, but I would suggest we allocate $5500 to assist the Lions,” he said.

“Any money they have for this project all have to come out of the funds the club would use for the community.

“I think it is sending a very important signal to the group, which probably does more than any other group for the community.”

Cr Sharon Cox supported the allocation to the Lions Club, which recorded the lowest matrix score of the eight eligible applications.

However, she raised concerns the matrix did not appropriately measure the need of clubs, with other councillors agreeing the structure did allow for critical information to be considered under the guidelines.

Cr Cox questioned a staff recommendation for the provision of $24,489 to McCorquindale Park Management Committee towards its proposed nature playground, saying council had “given them a lot of love” in the past.

She suggested a decrease of funds for the Penola project by $10,000 to provide the Millicent Lions Club with $15,000 for its project.

“I think the Lions Club were worthy recipients,” she said.

“McCorquindale Park are going to get $24,000 when they are only contributing $21,000.”

Elected members heard the nature playground project – which scored the second highest of the eight application – would be unable to proceed if grant funding was not allocated.

Cr Cox’s comments sparked a sharp rebuke from Penola-based councillor Rick Paltridge, who said the playground equipment would provide widespread advantages for residents and visitors.

“I am surprised at why you want to deny this project to go ahead,” he said.

“The recommendation is there and the four projects have come though and ticked all the appropriate boxes.

“That playground will directly advantage 2700 people and it will go far beyond the council area in terms of benefits for the people who will use it during the football and netball season.

“I think it is very disappointing the funding could be reduced.”

The proposal to provide funds to the Lions Club was vehemently opposed by Cr Peter Dunnicliff, with the veteran councillor highlighting the group’s low weighting.

“If they were one of our lowest scores and we put them in, it makes a mockery of our matrix,” he said.

“I have nothing against the Lions Club, but if we have spare money, give it to the next in line.”

All councillors with the exception of Cr’s Drew and Cox voted against the original motion, with Cr Drew seeking an amendment to include funding for the Lions.

Millicent-based Cr Dennis Muhovics denounced the amendment, saying it was contrary to the stringent application process passed by council earlier in the year.

“I am frustrated with this whole argument,” he said.

“I just find we are rewarding a club who sure, do a wonderful job in the community, but scored the lowest.

“Why should we reward that?

“Why don’t we just have an open slather?”

Mayor Des Noll, who is also a member of the Lions Club, agreed with Cr Muhovics’ sentiments.

“I love the Lions Club dearly… but we just haven’t scored and all of a sudden we want to reward them?”

He also rejected claims the matrix was flawed, saying “I think councillors want to change a result or don’t like the result”.

Cr Drew’s motion was defeated, with Cr’s Cox, Kevin McGrath, Graham Slarks and Dean Burrow voting in favour of the funding allocation.