AS the move to force council to have a poll on the indoor sports centre gathers momentum, it is amazing how the mayor Andrew Lee remains defiantly in denial.
His response last week to calls by MPs Tony Pasin and Troy Bell to hold a ratepayers’ poll so those paying for the project could have their say with a vote was hardly the actions of a civic leader.
This issue is now not only about whether the city needs an indoor sports centre or if society has its priorities wrong in spending $40m on such a project – it is about a mayor and council who will not recognise the only way to resolve the impasse and provide fairness to everyone is to have a ratepayers’ poll.
This week, Chamber of Commerce president Lynette Martin OAM put her organisation’s support behind a poll, even though the chamber backs the project.
Interestingly, there continues to be speculation she might run as mayor.
Mr Pasin was an original driving force behind the sports centre, but now realises for this project to be an untainted success it must have clear air and to achieve that he wants a ratepayers’ poll.
He will not lobby for the $20m funding needed for the project until he gets this assurance from the mayor.
It appears to be a point completely overlooked by Mr Lee and his comment there will be “community engagement” through a consultation process falls well short of what Mr Pasin has asked for.
Everyone, including councillors, knows community consultation or surveys never work as few ever attend or take part.
Council’s reaction to Mr Pasin’s call is not surprising given the mayor’s, other councillors and officers’ comments supporting this project.
Mr Lee has proudly boasted Mount Gambier would get a $40m centre by outlaying only $10m of ratepayers’ funds.
He only needs to look at history when the city was offered $5m by prime minister Kevin Rudd and because council did not wish to risk losing the money it went ahead and built the controversial $10m Main Corner.
But further to that, one of the key questions is whether society has it priorities right in putting almost four times more money into a sports centre than it has ever spent on an infrastructure project.
The $11.3m library was the previous highest.
Meanwhile, the council and mayor have used the success of a similar indoor sports centre in Campbelltown to justify it will not cost ratepayers a hike in rates and user-pay covers running costs.
While that centre is doing well, it is a flawed comparison as Campbelltown is a city suburb with a population of 50,164 – double Mount Gambier – and consists of areas such as Magill, Hectorville, Rostrevor and Tranmere, but also has a vast neighbouring population catchment area of 298,237 because it is bordered by major populated councils such as Tea Tree Gully, Burnside, Norwood-Payneham and Port Adelaide-Enfield.
Together with Campbelltown’s population, this totals 348,401, which gives it enormous drawing power, so council is making a $40m decision based on a city suburb and catchment area which simply does not compare with our city or region.
City Council’s thinking is completely flawed – consider this: Cr Ian Von Stanke is reported as saying that our regional catchment could be 90,000 – on that basis, if talking about catchment areas, how could he or other councilors compare that to Campbelltown’s 348,401?
I’ll leave it to readers to judge if they believe they are being misled.
Then deputy mayor Cr Hanna Persello appeared to be trying to defend the less-than-credible petition which was made up of many hundreds of school children by claiming young children should have a say – why then deny ratepayers a say through a poll as they are the ones who pay council’s costs.
Finally, this issue is not a poll about an indoor pool – most people opposed to a sports centre would prefer a stand-alone indoor pool – it is about spending $40m on a sports centre.
Whether the vote is won or lost, the most important thing is ratepayers should not be denied a chance to vote.