Council voted to accept a tender for the regional Art Gallery and Tourism Information Centre project, however the requirement to fund an additional $2.5 million, prompted lengthy debate at the May meeting.
The design phase included provision for reports by the contracted quantity surveyor, which established budget costings of around $4 million (excluding GST). But once the tendering process began, this estimate turned out to be significantly below what was possible to complete the project.
Thus all submissions were beyond the original budget and additional funds would be required. The report put to Council recommended tenderer Hutchinson Builders, who scored the highest under the evaluation criteria.
It also noted that discussions are underway to investigate why the estimate was so far off. And that talks are ongoing with the State Government regarding further funds to offset some of the additional cost.
Ultimately, on Wednesday evening, Council voted to accept the submission from Hutchinson Builders at the tendered price of $6,422,812.73 (ex GST). And to fund an additional $2.5 million from the Capital Reserve.
However, before the motion passed, Cr Esme Martens moved an amendment to defer the decision and call for new tenders.
"I'd like to say that I'm not against having an art gallery, but I think now wasn't the right time for tenders to be called. And I'd like to see fresh tenders called after all of this COVID-19 business is finished, because I think we'll probably get a better price than that," she said.
"This'll also allow time for us to see if there is any more available funds in the meantime."
Cr Martens was supported by Cr Alex Karavas, who said, "I don't think that we should be rushing into this".
"Especially when the figure has blown out by $2.5 million, I think we have to take things slow at the moment. I would be happy to support half of that amount if we could ensure that the rest would be funded from the State Government or possibly the Federal Government," he said.
Cr Percy Thompson and Cr Russell Holden also backed the amendment, the latter expressing his concerns over the potential of future budget additions.
However, Cr Sam Paine said it was important to "keep moving" and he's hopeful of the NSW Government coming through with further support.
"I think we're all a bit stressed at seeing it blow out like that, I don't think it's what anybody wanted, so I do understand Councillors' trepidation," he said.
"But I also feel pretty confident that Create NSW has invested enough into this project that they're going to support us with further funding and hopefully it won't end up adding up to that much.
"It doesn't feel like rushing into the project, we've been working on it for a long time. And if we wait for extra money to be completely confirmed now we'd be putting it on hold for a long time and we'd have to repeat our tendering process."
Cr Peter Shelley concurred and said "I don't believe any delay is warranted" and "if we delay work will stop and it will make things more difficult".
"The two-million extra dollars, even if we approve it tonight, I have no doubt what so ever will come from taxpayers and won't be coming from ratepayers - based on experience in the past with similar projects that this Council has undertaken," he said.
"We don't want the money to come from the ratepayers, because it is a burden, but it is a project that's been promised and we've been working on it for years.
"As for delaying it because of COVID and tendering process, it was explained in the briefing that the tendering process was robust and we probably won't get any more tenders than what we've received. And they were all around a similar price."
The amendment was lost five votes to four.
Cr Holden moved another amendment, that they only continue with the project after additional grant funding (at least 50 per cent) is secured.
"Even if it is only fifty-fifty, so 1.25 of the 2.5, that then we continue with the project. Now if everyone's as confident as they are - and all cocky about how we're going to get that grant funding - then that is not an issue," he said.
"But if we're not that confident, and we're all full of bluff and bravado, then we shouldn't be in a tick-n-flick spending an additional $2.5 million of ratepayers' funds.
"I am extremely supportive of the concept of an art gallery, but we did this back in 2008/9 when we were going to put one across the road. And we got to the position where we had five options and we distilled that down to four, then one - and we ended up walking away from it.
"Why? Because it ended up costing us too much money.
"I don't want to see that happen here, nor do I want to see it come purely out of ratepayers' funds. Hence the reason why my [amendment] is that we secure the grant funding and then proceed further."
Cr Shelley reiterated his view on any further delays and said "I'm tired of this Council procrastinating about getting shit done, it's as simple as that".
"We'll be opening a bridge in Rylstone very shortly, that if we'd built it five years ago when it was proposed by the community, it would've cost us $400,000. It's cost us twice that, because Councillors have procrastinated over the last five years and eventually a community project got done," he said.
"We say 'we'll get grant funding, we'll get this, we'll get that', then the budget gets taken away and doesn't get put back again - and nothing happens for twice as long as it needed to get done. So let's just make the decision, get it done, we'll apply for the grant funding, we'll get the money from State Government, and build something the community wants."
The amendment was lost, also by five votes to four.
Another pushing for the original motion was Cr Paul Cavalier, who called for them to "proceed given the current circumstances, as unfortunate as they are".
"I think we've fairly well established by now that regardless of what avenue we take, the cost of the art gallery and the form that the majority of us agreed upon, is ultimately going to cost us this amount of money," he said.
"Clearly, the quantity surveyor was very wrong in their initial estimates and the reality is - given the tenders that we've now received - figure is much more like the $6 million that we're now looking at.
"And I think we're now faced with the question around this table, whether or not we still wish to proceed? Because there is no other option, we're not going to get if for the price we thought we were going to get it for.
"For me, I too am of the opinion that we're too far along, we've done too much work to get the building secured and everything else that's gone into this, to now put a halt on the project."
Mayor Des Kennedy said the problem is that the original estimate was wrong when they entered into the co-funding arrangement with the State Government, but it's too late "to start putting the brakes".
"Nobody would've had a skerrick of a problem with it if we knew it would've cost $6 million from the start. We would've put it in our early submission," he said.
"Yes, I agree that it's a big chunk of ratepayers' money. But we've been talking about an arts and cultural centre in this town for 11 years that I know of - and we still haven't got one.
"We told [the Government] it was going to cost $4.6 million and they gave us $2.3 million, so half, if the quantity surveyor was on the ball we would've said we wanted half of $6.5 million.
"Whether we get [additional] money or not, this is too far down the track to start putting the brakes on it now. My opinion only and coming from a bloke who's never been in an art gallery in his life."
The motion, which passed six votes to three, was summed up by Cr Paine.
"It's not going to get cheaper, it's not going to get to a point where we can do it for $4.6 million, hopefully we can secure a grant - but it's only going to get more expensive to build. And if we want to build it, this is what it's going to cost us," he said.