Council gambles on art gallery

THE Albury Council took a $3.5  million gamble last night by delaying a decision on the funding arrangements for the art gallery redevelopment.

The council is prepared to risk forfeiting $3.5 million in federal money by embarking on another round of costly community consultation during the Christmas-New Year period before it revisits the issue in February.

The council voted 5-4 at the end of nearly two hours of debate to put the project on hold.

The deputy mayor Kevin Mack said the newly elected council didn’t have a mandate to spend an extra $3.5 million on the project, after the NSW government refused to chip for it.

And he opposed — as the council staff last night recommended — asking ratepayers to double the $3.5 million the former council had committed to the project.

Fellow new councillors Cr Ross Jackson, Cr Darren Cameron and Cr David Thurley, and Cr Henk van de Ven of the old guard backed him.

The mayor Alice Glachan, Cr Patricia Gould, Cr Daryl Betteridge and Cr Graham Docksey said the council should press ahead with the redevelopment with the “missing” $3.5 million coming from cash reserves or loans.

All councillors spoke at length with the exception of Cr Jackson.

Cr Mack said the election was a game-changer for the community on the art gallery project.

“During pre-polling and again on polling day the angst I was subjected to by members of the public in relation to this project was palpable,” Cr Mack said.

“They were angry it was stated in the press that we would be pursuing this without support of the NSW government.

“The feedback I am getting from my community is ‘what is the point, you will just go ahead and do it’ — is that what you want to be remembered for?”

The council had to provide funding arrangements to the federal Labor government a month ago, but was granted a delay as discussion continued with the NSW Coalition government about its proposed $3.5 million share.

The revamped gallery will take 2½ years to build and must be finished by March 2015 as part of the federal funding guidelines.

Cr Glachan said she was only getting supportive comments for the project.

“It is interesting some councillors have only had negative comments, but I have had positive and supportive comments,” she said.

“If we vote for this amendment we are in essence taking a gamble that the federal government will allow us to continue to dilly dally.

“We stand to lose it ... because we don’t have the luxury of time.”