Former Wangaratta mayor Ken Clarke has lashed out at “robot” council staff for hiding the fact they had fallen about $1.4 million short in their cost estimate for a proposed organics processing plant.
Browns Wangaratta is set to be awarded the tender to construct the plant after councillors at this week’s meeting voted unanimously in favour, despite not knowing the exact cost.
What they do know is an extra $1,408,942 will be taken from the waste reserve in the council’s 2019-2 budget, on top of the $3,200,986 already allocated, to cover what will be required.
Chief executive Brendan McGrath was given the authority to make the final decision and reveal the price at March’s council meeting.
Wangaratta Council currently transports its organic waste 160 kilometres to Biomix at Stanhope, but did not want to continue the expensive practice.
A processing plant in the city would initially compost 3500 tonnes of kerbside-collected organic waste and 500 to 1000 tonnes of garden waste from the city’s tips, but could be expanded to become a regional facility - a move which ensured the Victorian government would contribute $500,000.
Cr Clarke said he supported the construction of an organics plant, which has been in the planning for about six years, but was “disturbed” councillors were not told about the blowout in costs until last week.
The money is needed to cover the council’s three attempts to get Environmental Protection Authority approval, extra fire protection, legal advice, and to cover an increase in construction costs over the past 12 to 18 months.
Despite having regular meetings to discuss this year’s budget, councillors were left in the dark.
“I do not ever recall hearing that this plan could cost another couple of million dollars,” Cr Clarke said.
“I’ve lost confidence in the ability of officers making presentations that are accurate and factual.
“I wonder if we are not employing robots.”
Infrastructure services director Alan Clark said he expected a decision of the cost of the seven 25m x 8m bunkers to be made in the next week after more negotiations.
“We’ve been working with the preferred contractor to reduce the price,” he said.
“We’ve done that on a number of items and we’re doing that with one more.
“Both parties agree that the price can come down a little bit more.”
Brendan McGrath defended the council’s staff for falling $1.4 million short of the required money to be budegted.
“Our staff do their very best to estimate projects accurately and in 99 per cent of cases they do that very well,” he said.
“The market prices will be what the market prices are at that time … All we can do now is our best to negotiate the prices down the best we can.”
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