A proposal to contract out the management of the Corowa Aquatic Centre has been put on hold after
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Federation Council selected the Model 3-Tiered Supervision.
After much strong debate at council’s latest monthly meeting on October 31, councillors voted 5:4 for a new council organisation structure with permanent roles and reduced reliance on casual employment.
The aim of the tiered council structure, which is expected to take six months to be operational, is to provide a core and stable workforce at the centre. The Model 3 concept will include re-organisation of roles to meet the insurer’s requirements and meetings with unions.
The decision flies in the face of the recommendation by council’s director development and environmental services Susan Appleyard which sought contract supervision.
But Deputy Mayor Shaun Whitechurch, who heads up the aquatic centre’s advisory committee, attacked the recommended action by council staff for the contracted supervision model.
He said the centre’s consultative committee, which includes all user groups including ageing well and the swimming club, people from the community, including people from Howlong and Mulwala from Day One, voted unanimously for the tiered supervision model; the council report projects council would be $40,000 better off based on council projections and that it could take up to 12 months to have a contractor.
“Do we go with the current situation for another 12 months and continue losing money?” Cr Whitechurch asked. “I think we should go with the Model 3 Tiered Supervision, revisit it after six to 12 months, see how it’s going then consider contract supervision.
“Everything in the council report leads to a tiered structure. If you’re not going to support it, don’t have any more surveys, don’t have any more drop-in sessions or community consultation. I’m not going to walk down the street and say I didn’t support you.”
Cr Rowena Black did not hold back in her attack on Cr Whitechurch’s foreshadowed amendment which became a motion after the motion by Crs David Longley and Black for a contracted service was defeated 4:5.
“I just don’t believe council should be running a business,” Cr Black said. “We need to get someone who understands what’s needed to be done.
“Our staff are going to work flat out to try and implement a tiered system and see if it works and then it’ll be 18 months down the track and then we’ll go ‘maybe it didn’t work’ and then it we’ll have to go another one and then it will be two or three years down the track,” Cr Black said.
“We need to make bold decisions and to me this is a decision that needs to be made. We need to make sure that we’re doing what’s best for the community and what’s best for council and our financial position and the staff have recommended this.
“Our staff have done a fantastic job in building up this asset. I’m absolutely in favour of contract supervision and highly recommend this model.”
Cr David Fahey OAM preferred council to operate as best it could financially and with a lead time of at least six months – and anytime between six and 18 months before expectations of a suitable contractor. He favoured the tiered council system which would give council staff some staffing security.
Cr Fahey suggested council contact Narrandera Shire Council in view of its experience with contractor experiences.
Cr Aaron Nicholls favoured the contract model which he said would provide better security of staff and services.
Cr Gail Law said she was betwixt and between council’s two preferred models for further consideration, as stated at its June 2023 meeting, out of the seven models put to councillors.
Running a pool should not be council’s business according to Cr Law who was concerned how best to operate for the coming months. “It may take 12 months to get a contractor. In the meantime, we need to cut costs wherever we can,” she said. “I know our staff who have done a wonderful job have recommended the contract model but we have to decide what we consider the best for council and the community.”
Cr Longley believed the contracting was the best option to enable a fixed price, reduce risks and better provision of staff with contractors such as those at Wodonga and Albury able to rotate staff when shortages happen, “which is a common complaint”. “There are benefits with contractors and they’ll help promote the aquatic centre,” he said.
Cr Andrew Kennedy was somewhat torn between the two preferred options up for further consideration. But he leant towards the tiered supervision model because of perceived time to attract a suitable contractor and his knowledge of pool responsibilities being reverted to councils.
“Albury, they’re not happy with theirs. There are a lot of councils in Sydney who have taken their pools back from contracted services because their consumers have complained,” Cr Kennedy said.
Cr Sally Hughes asked that the decision be deferred to council’s next meeting but was rejected by Mayor Pat Bourke.
The mayor recalled the centre’s official opening in April 2021 when it had been determined that council would run the centre for two years. “We know how to run the pool, we’ve brought the staff up to speed and now we’re going out to contract?” he asked.
Mayor Bourke mentioned the absence of a full summer season since the centre’s opening due to the floods and the Covid 19 pandemic, and consequential absence of a comprehensive financial situation.
“Hopefully we’ll get a full season so we will have some accurate figures to go out and make a real comparison to tiered system and a contractor,” he said. “We may not get a suitable contractor and we have to reduce costs in the meantime.”
During the consultation process, suggestions about hosting various events and activities at the Coorwa Aquatic Centre were advised which have previously been suggested in The Free Press.
Voting for the successful motion for council’s tiered supervision model, were Mayor Bourke and Crs Whitechurch, Fahey, Law and Kennedy. Against were Crs Black, Longley, Nicholls and Hughes. Councillors acknowledged there are challenging times ahead.