By Raquel Mustillo
KINGSTON District Council has adopted an in principle position not to proceed with the reinstatement of a council-owned boat ramp after an independent report found rate revenue would need to increase by up to 19pc to fund the project.
At last month’s meeting, councillors discussed an independent business case for the Maria Creek Boat Launching Facility following the closure of the facility in 2019 due to sand and seagrass build-up.
The report, undertaken by BRM Advisory, found the Maria Creek Community Focus Group preferred hybrid model comprising of a 60m southern breakwater extension, 250m breakwater repairs and 350,000m3 dredging on the southern side and the channel could add up to $9.6m to council’s operating cost base – or an average of 9.3pc – over 10 years.
According to the report, the reinstatement of Maria Creek as a boat launching facility would cost $7.6m for capital works and a further $626,000 each year in ongoing costs for dredging work and depreciation.
While the report acknowledges the impact the ongoing closure the facility has on tourism and fishing, it warns ongoing costs “will need to be met either by reducing costs or other services or by raising income from council rates”.
Kingston District Council chief executive Nat Traeger said given the preferred pathway had a significant financial impact on council and the community, an information pack and ballot has been distributed to ratepayers to help guide the focus group and elected members in the final decision-making process.
“This is not a community survey, the ballot is either a yes we progress with the model or no, we do nothing,” she said.
“Council needs to be comfortable that the community is largely supportive of the choice that is made because it not only affect the current community but future generations of ratepayers.
“The 15pc range is really dependent on whether the council is able to secure grant funding… and a fair component of the $7.6m is for the dredging campaign.
“The capital work isn’t the hugest problem, it’s the ongoing costs of dredging.
“We own a dredge but it is located at Cape Jaffa and there is no way we could use it at Maria Creek because it would create problems at Cape Jaffa so we would have to get in a contractor.”
Under the three funding scenarios examining a 100pc, 50pc and 0pc contribution for capital works, the report estimates council would operate in a deficit for the duration of its long term financial plan – including no cash reserves from 2022/23 – and have limited capacity to borrow to funds operations.
Ms Traeger said for council to proceed with the project the maximum increase on rate caps may need to be amended or removed, which would disproportionally affect primary producers where valuation increases have occurred.
She said all funding scenarios only includes ongoing sand and seagrass management, depreciation and interest costs and did not consider principle loan repayments which affect council’s cash flow in addition to the required rate revenue increase.
The ratepayer survey will close on March 12.
In the event councils in principle position is supported by the community and the proposed reinstatement of the boat launching facility is not progressed, the alternate options of removing the existing breakwaters or adopting a do nothing approach will be considered.