‘Unfair’ claim as deal backed

Cr Michael Fraser
Cr Michael Fraser

A Wodonga councillor says a move to buy back almost a third of the council’s Hovell Street offices means ratepayers will be paying for it twice.

Last night, the council voted to purchase the 760 square-metre floor space from the Victorian government corporation North East Water at a cost of $1.23 million.

This comes almost 20 years after the government forced the council to transfer the space to the corporation’s predecessor Kiewa Murray Water at the separation of water functions.

Cr Michael Fraser said the state government had taken the space at “zero cost” but was now receiving money for it.

“Ratepayers of Wodonga built this facility, lost this facility, have a chance to get it back again, but in order to do that have to pay for it again at a price of $1.23 million,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s fair and I don’t believe the people of Wodonga should have to pay for this twice.”

But mayor Rodney Wangman called the purchase “commonsense”.

The interest derived from paying the sum over three years would be negligible compared to what the council could do with the money in hand.

“Cash is gold for us in Wodonga at the moment in terms of being able to build our central business area and ... many other things in our city,” he said.

Cr Wangman reignited speculation the building could be put on the market in the distant future.

“In the years to come we will be able to decide whether to recondition, add to or, in fact, a future council, many years down the track, may decide whether they do something else with the building,” he said.

Cr Mark Byatt echoed his comment.

“There will come a time in the future when major decisions will be made by the council of the day of the future of this facility and this site in the best interests of the community,” he said.

“Only complete control will deliver the most favourable outcomes.”

The office space has been vacant since water authority staff moved to $14 million premises in Thomas Mitchell Drive.

The council is using a $1.2 million surplus from the sale of land at Logic in the 2012-13 financial year to pay for the space, avoiding higher rates.

A staff report said the present office space was full, with a lack of meeting rooms and some overcrowding.