Council's own ‘hole in the pocket'

THE Northumberland Hotel issue remains a sore point for Gympie region councillors this week, with calls for an end to rented external staff accommodation.

The former hotel was purchased as part of a plan to provide new council-owned housing for the planning and design departments.

It was a plan which would have brought the two related departments together, and eliminated a $56,800 a year rental hole in the design department budget.

The plan became an election issue when critics pointed out that, after a workplace health and safety assessment, the refurbished building could not accommodate that many people.

The result is that the council has bought what it intended to be a design department home, but is still paying rent.

The issue came instantly to the surface this week, when council considered a recommendation it renew its lease on the Old Post Office.

The larger council staff accommodation issue has been a fiasco for some years, despite a deal, under which a former council purchased the Old Post Office for a $1 "peppercorn" from the state government.

But a political change meant the building was sold for what now seems a bargain price to a private owner.

Now that the council is renting back the building it used to own, the failure of the Northumberland project to deliver its original goals has tended to rub salt into the wound.

Mayor Ron Dyne said he acknowledged that the intended outcome of housing design department staff on council property had not transpired.

"Now (we are) confronted with the issue of what we do for the design department," he said.

Cr Larry Friske said the council still had time to run on its current lease. "If we've got three years to make a decision, why do it now?" he said.

Cr Dyne said it was "a negotiation thing" and he did not believe the council would be in a better situation in two years time when negotiations would be held "on a different set of figures."

Cr Julie Walker called for the council to build extra accommodation on the Northumberland site.

Cr Ian Petersen said the council should explore all alternatives. "We moved 40 people out of the Mary St building, I find it hard to believe we can't move 20 of them back there, in good conditions," he said.

He and Cr Friske were voted against extending the Post Office lease in a division with all others in favour.

Gympie Times

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