ARARAT - Ararat Rural City Mayor CrIan Wilson said when council made a decision it was making a decision for the whole community.
Cr Wilson took the unusual step of allowing each councillor to speak on the issue of the proposed redevelopment to the Ararat Outdoor Olympic Swimming pool before making a decision.
Cr Wilson said the proposal to redevelop the pool equated to just over a four percent rate increase.
"The annual operating cost of that facility over the next five years would mean a 4.4 percent rate increase and unless the councillors at the table are prepared to identify some other project, some other activity or service we do not provide the only way we could fund that as a responsible council is to pass that direct cost onto the ratepayers of Ararat," he said.
"And by listening to the ratepayers, listening to the concerns raised when introducing the six percent increase this year, which was the minimum we could responsibly do, to put another four percent plus on top of that is just not sustainable."
Cr Wilson said Council having to make decisions for the whole community was one of the hardest roles of the councillor.
"Sometimes it's not fun, sometimes you have to vote for something you don't necessarily personally believe it but because it's the responsible thing to do," he said.
"It's not an emotive issue it has to come back to the data and evidence, that we as a responsible Council have asked the officers to produce."
In acknowledging the community support for the project, Cr Wilson said council and the community had to harness that support and not walk away and say 'we're disappointed'.
"We know that there will be a significant number of people disappointed with this decision, however, this community spirit is something Ararat is absolutely renowned for," he said.
Community support was evident when the 50 metre pool developed and also when the 25 metre pool was developed at the YMCA.
Cr Wilson said this pool at the YMCA is also now getting towards its twilight years.
"We as a responsible council have to start planning for that (pool's) retirement and not be guilty of the sins of our forebears of the last 30 years, we have to be responsible for the next generational change and take that lead and that lead will have to go across multiple terms of council and that's the challenge we have to throw out to the wider community," he said.
"It's not a popularity contest - it's about identifying a plan and a way forward and bringing the whole community with us."
Cr Wilson said the indoor pool was a very under utilised resource and that was something Council needed to work on with the community.
"I hope collectively, whether councillors, officers or the committee, can identify a common thread and work together for this community," he said.
"You may not win the battle but it's all about the war, it's about the bigger picture and collectively we can achieve those things over a long period of time."
Cr Gwenda Allgood
Ararat - An angry Cr Gwenda Allgood told members of the community who attended Ararat Rural City Council's meeting to hear the decision of the Ararat Outdoor Olympic Swimming Pool she was devastated.
Cr Allgood, who voted against closing the pool, said for 30 years she had heard councillors put off the issue of redeveloping the pool.
"I just feel absolutely devastated tonight to think that this has come up again and again and again, it's good to be able to get up and talk about this but I don't really see how you're going to win your argument tonight," she said to the Save our Pool committee members.
"And I just think for the time and effort you've all put in you should be congratulated and I feel absolutely devastated for you and I feel responsible because over this 30 years I've stood here I haven't been able to convince anybody of the importance of that pool."
Cr Allgood was also angry about discussions which had taken place in the closed meeting prior to the public council meeting.
"You joked about what we could do with the pool and I know councillors will testify to the fact that I was quite angry tonight with some of the suggestions thrown around and jokes made," she said.
"I think that pool is important, I think it's important to this community."
Cr Allgood indicated that the pool had deteriorated over many years.
"If we looked after the damn stuff we wouldn't find ourselves in this position. But over the years we've put it off, we knew the concourse need to come off, we knew the plant room had had it, we were told the thing leaked - it didn't leak, we were told that for years.
"These are the sorts of rubbish things we had put before us.""It's not the CEO or staff here tonight that have been guilty of this, but this is what I've sat here (and listened to) for 30 years."
Cr Allgood said if the Ararat community wanted changes they would need to put their hands up at the next election.
"You as people have to look at your elected representatives, you have to, and you have to make a hard and tough decision that if you want to change things around this particular table you have to get off your bums and get over here (council side of the table)," she said.
Cr Gary Hull
Ararat - Ararat Rural City Councillor Gary Hull told Ararat Rural City Council he did not wish to see the pool demolished, however did agree that it was too costly to redevelop it.
Because the motion before council included a recommendation to both close the pool permanently and demolish it, he was forced to vote against the motion as he did not agree with demolishing it.
Cr Hull said he was a big supporter of getting the project to a tender stage, so that council had all the costs before it, but indicated that the in-kind work that could be agreed to by any winning tenderer could be misleading.
"The community has to understand that big builders will never ever give you the amount of money in credit of what you think that work's worth," he said
"I've been down that track myself before and if you say there's $300,000 of work in-kind, they'll say it's worth $150,000."
Cr Hull agreed with Cr McKenzie and said Council has 'copped a lot of flak over rate rises'.
"I don't think we'd be doing the right thing to put a four percent rate rise on the people at the moment, when we are making decisions for people in hardship who can't even afford rates at the moment," he said.
Cr Hull said with state elections coming up there could possibly be funding available and he would not like to see the pool demolished because of this.
"But at present we know the pool is going to cost that amount of money, because that's a hard fact, I think the community will understand that," he said.
"I'm a big supporter of the pool, Ararat needs a big pool, but I think four percent rates (rise) at the moment people just can't afford, and where else are we going to get the money from?
"It's a stand alone facility. Officers have told us there's no money available for a stand alone facility like an outdoor pool and where else do we get the money, it's got to come from rates."
Cr Fay Hull
Ararat - In making a decision on whether or not to close the Ararat Olympic Swimming Pool, Ararat Rural City Councillor Fay Hull said the question councillors needed to ask was whether they could justify the capital cost of refurbishing the pool and the ongoing costs associated.
Cr Hull voted for closing and demolishing the pool.
"There is no doubting community emotional involvement and commitment to the Olympic Pool, there are residents who were involved in the original construction, people who remember many hazy summer days in and beside the pool, Swimming Club members who enjoyed participating in their sport and students past and present whose school days and summer holidays were enhanced by visits to the pool," Cr Hull said.
"As councillors we recognise that, and we would love to be able restore the pool to its former glory. However, we live in very different times and we must take into account many factors in making a decision."
Cr Hull said benefits that flowed from having a 50 metre outdoor pool included.
The cold water experience for young people.
Ability to hold 50 metre competitions.
After school activities and as a holiday time venue for young people.
However Cr Hull said Council also needed to take into account other factors, including: The variety of activities that will be available at a refurbished pool.
Appeal for all generations and all levels of physical ability.
Whether it is able to be available 12 months of the year.
Whether it is a facility that meets the needs of the 21st century.
Whether it is affordable.
Cr Hull said statistics in the Municipal Health Plan revealed that that Ararat had a gross median household income of just $483 compared to the state median of $749.
"It is no wonder that ratepayers are expressing strong feelings regarding the level of rates," she said.
"Very many people in our community will never be able to afford to go to the pool if it was to be refurbished.
"The question we have to answer is can we justify the capital cost of refurbishing the pool, and, even more importantly, the ongoing recurrent costs? One way to contain rate rises is to limit additional capital and recurrent expenditure to projects based on very sound proposals.
"I am yet to be convinced that refurbishment of the pool provides sufficient benefit to the wider community to justify such a significant rise in rates for our ratepayers.
"Cr Hull said Council must, however, acknowledge the work and fundraising efforts by the community and ensure that their efforts are able to be utilised appropriately.
"A water play area in Alexandra Gardens would be an excellent free option for our young people, it would not require an entry fee," she said.
Cr Paul Hooper
Ararat - The issue of the Ararat Outdoor Olympic Swimming Pool has always had the potential to divide the community according to Ararat Rural City Councillor Paul Hooper.
Cr Hooper voted to close and demolish the pool at council's meeting last week.
"This is a project that has many complexities, costs, equity and usage issues," he said.
"But passion showed by it supporters has raised this 50 plus year old facility from the dead."
Cr Hooper said he was very aware of the pool's history; his own father one of the many members of the community who spent countless hours toiling away to build the pool.
"Like many in our community I was taught to swim at the outdoor pool, as were my three kids so I think I have a fair handle on what the pool means to our wider community," he said.
"We should be very proud of our forebears for their vision, work and leadership."
Cr Hooper said over the past six months he had spoken to many residents on the merits of reopening the outdoor pool and had been surprised at the depth of feeling, both positive and negative, to the pool's renewal.
"During these discussions I accept many of the arguments put forward of the benefits of renewal of the pool as both being sound and logical. Included in these arguments is the importance of the pool being an amenity to both attract and retain people to our community. The pool also assists the community in health, lifestyle, education, sporting and social outcomes," he said.
"In a perfect world, where resources are unlimited, the question is would I support this project? As a Council we have to have the discipline to ensure that every new facility built by this council now and in the future, be designed so that it is multi user, multi functional and sustainable."
Cr Hooper said his overriding consideration was of the community's capacity to pay.
"I look at the participation figures and relate them to 60 percent of houses in Ararat that have two or less people living in them or think of 30 percent of the people living in these dwellings that are living on fixed incomes," he said.
"There is of course a large population in our municipality that lives outside of Ararat and are unlikely to ever use the pool.
"Also of course we have to take into consideration our rapidly ageing population.
"I then try to justify another 4.25 per cent rate increase on top of the 3.5 percent superannuation liability that council finds itself paying, then adding this to the effective 60 per cent residential rate increase that has occurred in over the last five years.
"While I am excited by the concept of the water play area, I cannot after deep reflection burden our community with an additional rate over the next 10 years of 4.25 per cent per annum.
"My views would not support this position if we did not already have an operating aquatics facility in Ararat. However, this facility or its replacement needs to be on our radar as a priority.
"On this basis I cannot justify supporting the renewal of the outdoor pool due to the ability of our community to absorb the annual costs of $470,000."
Cr Ian Harris
Ararat - In voting to close the Ararat Olympic Swimming pool, Cr Ian Harris believed the next step was to push for a multi-use facility, similar to one proposed for Kokoda Park a few years ago.
Cr Harris said after the 1956 Olympics, many Olympic size swimming pools were built across Australia, including in Ararat.
When he arrived in Ararat in 1987, however, he found a pool that was 'a very sad place'.
"And this was 31 years after the Olympic games and it showed its age and as Councillor Allgood has said Council hasn't put money into its upkeep but it's got to the stage where it was unusable," he said.
"What we as a Council have got to do is look at this as a planning matter. We had an option passed some years ago to start developing a new facility which would have included an outdoor/indoor pool, which would have adequately replaced that but then the council of the day for reasons that made sense to them stopped it.
"Now if that had gone ahead we wouldn't be here tonight talking about refurbishing a pool that serviced the community absolutely wonderfully but has gone by its use by date, we would have had a new multi-use facility that would have serviced more and more people.
"I believe it's still the best option for us, if we renovated the pool we wouldn't have a pool in the summer of 2014 anyway and if council can get itself together and work together and work with people like you (pool committee) we can go back and work on this greenfield site and you would have a pool, you'll have a new pool, a pool you can use throughout the year."
Cr Harris believed refurbishing the outdoor pool wasn't viable.
"You can't throw good money after bad to try and retrieve that which we thankfully have had, but which is now passed its use by date," he said.
Cr Colin McKenzie
Ararat - The comments of ratepayers following the introduction of the last budget with a six per cent rate rise weighed heavily on Cr Colin McKenzie when making a decision on whether to go ahead with refurbishment of the Ararat Outdoor Olympic Pool at Ararat Rural City Council's meeting last week.
"I still have the last replies from our rate rises echoing in my ears, particularly as we put on a six percent rate rise just to keep the municipality moving," he said.
"We would have to do that every year for several years to overcome this (cost of refurbishing the pool)."
Cr McKenzie acknowledged the availability of the Ararat YMCA indoor pool in Ararat.
"I am so glad that there is an extra facility in this town where people can use an aquatic facility every day of the year and that's the facility that we must maintain so that the children learn to swim and adults get that exercise - we really can't afford two in the one town," he said.
"I appreciate the amount of work put in by the committee over a long period of time to bring out all the facts and make sure council brings out all the facts.
"(But) I find it is a project I really can't lend my support to."
Cr McKenzie voted to close the pool.