$60m Melton council office furore

By Sumeyya Ilanbey

Melton council’s decision to fast track a new $60 million civic centre will have negative impacts, according to community groups.

The council last week dumped plans to refurbish the current High Street centre, which would have cost $20 million, instead agreeing to bring forward the construction of a new civic centre at Toolern in the next five years.

Taylors Hill Community Safety Group president Ian Herbert said his group had requested council funding many times over the years but had been knocked back several times.

“Common sense tells you, you take $60 million over five years out of the budget and something’s going to miss out,” Mr Herbert said.

Friends of the Toolern Creek president Lyn Holdsworth described the council’s ability to find $60 million to fund a civic centre and not community projects as “disappointing”.

Ms Holdsworth said she had applied to the council on several occasions to help fund the “very successful” annual Platypus Festival now in its 11th year. She’s been knocked back each time.

She said this year’s festival will be the last because of a lack of funding,

“When you think about the few thousand dollars for a community-funded festival, it’s nothing to a budget like councils.

“It’s very hard for community groups to get money. If council pitched in, I would’ve gone ahead with the festival again.”

The decision to fast track the new civic centre split the council with Ken Hardy, Goran Kesic, Michelle Mendes, Sophie Ramsey and Bob Turner voting in support.

Councillors Steve Abboushi, Lara Carli, Melissa De Santis and Kathy Majdlik voted against the motion.

Cr Majdlik said while she acknowledged a new civic centre needed to be built, it needed to be more central and accessible by residents from the eastern ward.

“I really do not feel comfortable in bringing such a massive project 15 to 20 years forward and burdening our community with an extra $60 million in such a short time,” Cr Majdlik said.

“To me it does not feel responsible.”

The Toolern Metropolitan Activity Centre. Photo: Melton council

But council officers said there were “clear advantages” in moving to Toolern earlier as opposed to the original plan of waiting 20 years, citing the area had been identified as a “major metropolitan activity centre” by the state government.

Cr Mendes described the conditions of the current civic centre on High Street as being an occupational health and safety issue, and said the staff deserved a new building.

Council officers said building in Toolern and moving there earlier than anticipated would provide the greatest net-profit value.

In a report presented at the council meeting, officers said the council could lease out 2000 square metres of the new building for the first few years, bringing in an estimated $600,000 annually.

“Looking at the cash flow over the next 10 years, … move to Toolern now at $60 million will not have an impact on rates or current spending commitment as it will be funded by revenues from the Atherstone Lend Lease Joint Venture,” the report stated.