It appears that it is full steam ahead for the Yass Valley Council Civic Precinct with no less than six reports to go before Yass Valley Councillors at tonight’s meeting. Steam being the crucial word with water issues continuing to cause debate in the Yass Valley area over recent weeks. The first report deals with the proposed site location, with 209 Comur Street recommended as the preferred location by Council.

The photo above: Civic Precinct -Yass Valley General Manager standing in the heart of the council’s preferred site which includes the historic Crago’s Mill

The second report deals with funding for the initial design phase with a recommendation that $672,000 be allocated within the 2020/21 budget for the provision of plans and documentation for a new Yass Civic Precinct Development Application. Financial implications include that the funding will come from general revenue as set out in the second quarter budget review.

According to Council, “Due to commercial in confidence considerations, a spreadsheet has been distributed to Councillors confidentially showing the breakdown of the costs for the three phases to be funded.”

The Third report details advice on the tender submission for architecture and interior design services for the Civic Centre, however, this will be discussed in Confidential in accordance with Section 10A(2)(di) of the Local Government Act 1993, which permits the meeting to be closed to the public for business relating to commercial information of a confidential nature that would if disclosed prejudice the commercial position of the person who supplied it.

Council has admitted through its own business paper that  “There have been many failed attempts over several years to develop and deliver a new Civic Precinct for the Yass Community. A ‘Yass Civic Precinct Masterplan and Feasibility Study’ produced in April 2012, commissioned from Cox Architects (subsequent to a masterplan they developed in 2009) is a good example of previous work that did not progress.”

Advice received by Council shows that the project may cost $20,000,000 with funding sourced from a 20-year loan.

According to Council, “To date, APP the firm hired to consult on behalf of Council has undertaken all necessary project planning and associated work to draft and deliver 19 Tenders and Requests for Quotation for a range of specialised disciplines required to deliver DA ready plans and documentation. APP has produced a project schedule that would see the Precinct completed in mid 2023, should work and funding continues without unforeseen delays. Approval of expenditure for the required contractors and consultants through this report will keep the project on track for DA approval in 2021. It is projected that a four-month assessment and approval process for the DA will commence in early August 2021.”

Civic precinct – Crago’s Mill – located on the civic precinct site and earmarked for heritage restoration works

The business paper states that at the end of the 2020/21 financial year, Council debt is projected to be $15.4M. The four loans that make up that figure are all for previous water and wastewater infrastructure projects. Of note is the $8.9M NAB loan for the raising of the Yass Dam wall. In 2022, Council will exercise its option to renegotiate the 6.96% interest rate that will result in a reduction in interest expense and improve its debt service cover ratio.

The fourth report details Civil and Structural Engineering Services (Confidential) while the fifth report details the Multi-Service Engineer Services which will also be discussed in confidential, alongside the Quantity Surveying Services which is report number six.

It may be a bitter pill to swallow for residents who are yet to benefit from an upgraded water treatment works with Council looking at an option costed at over $31 million.

Yass resident Rebecca Duncan

Yass resident Rebecca Duncan lodged a proposal to see the new precinct closer to the Yass River, a position deemed to be a greenfield site with little need of demolition and in a position the envy of any public servant in Australia. Something that may help Yass Valley Council retain staff, something it struggles to do like many of its neighbouring country council cousins.

She said, “There is no doubt that Council staff need appropriate accommodation, and the current offices are cramped, depressing and not fit for purpose. The community must be consulted at every stage of the new precinct. And that means now, before architectural design begins.”

“But the timing will have many locals asking questions about why Council can prioritise a new $20 million office block for itself when us lowly ratepayers can’t even have a first world water supply? The community will remember this when the Council election comes round in September.”

Long term resident, Touie Smith was equally unimpressed with what appears to be 6 reports all detailing approvals needed to see the project come to fruition.

“The Council for nearly 30 years now have gone about a very slow process of spending so much money on one thing that they can’t back down. I’m not against new offices, I’m not against housing our public servants in proper conditions, I’m not against a civic building which stands out for Yass, but there has to be a conversation.  Every Council has been given another year in NSW.

They shouldn’t be making grand plans for the next council. They should be waiting until September. Are they going to put commercial buildings in competition with people who have put their money where their mouth is in this town and Council could be using their rate-paying money to be in competition against them?”

The project’s timeline for development approval commencement is serendipitously the month prior to the upcoming Council election in September.