An extraordinary Campbelltown Council meeting that turned into a Billabong Q&A has ripped the veil of secrecy off the controversial project.
Labor leader on the council Darcy Lound launched a barrage of questions about the Billabong, which turns out will now cost Campbelltown ratepayers more than $42 million.
The original plan cost a little over $18 million.
Both Cr Lound and his colleague Karen Hunt conducted a forensic examination of just about every aspect of the Billabong, which had been championed by the former mayor, George Brticevic.
As everyone now knows, Cr Brticevic, who served five years as mayor under the Labor flag, disowned the party once he lost the mayoralty to George Greiss on January 9, this year.
He now sits on the cross benches.
Buck to Tuesday night’s incredible meeting, which revealed that:
Adding the cost of drainage works brought forward using money from the stormwater levy takes the total cost of the billabong to more than $42 million – so far;
It will cost ratepayers more than $2 million a year to operate the Billabong;
Another $2 million will be needed from the budget every year for six years to repay the $12 million taken out of council’s cash reserves for the “bigger and better’’ Billabong;
The Billabong will not be available on hot summer nights – it will be locked up for safety issues;
Entry will be free, but council will consider this between now and opening currently scheduled in September 2023;
So far council has spent $14.4 million on the project;
Confirmation asbestos was found on the site during earthworks and has been buried there “deep underground’’;
Bradbury cricket club and Collegians rugby league club have received assurances their facilities alongside the Billabong will not be resumed for other purposes in the future.
“In the last term of council there wasn’t much information forthcoming regarding the billabong,’’ Cr Darcy told the council in part to explain the large number of questions he and Cr Hunt were asking about the Billabong.
“I am sure it will be great place to be for local families, but we have to be cautious about putting more money into it,’’ he said.
Cr Lound, pictured above, also asked questions about the two new parks adjoining the Billabong that $3.6 million from a state grant will be spent on.
“At $3.6m extra spent on them, I am curious as to what’s on them,’’ he asked.
Director Kevin Lynch said the first park near the entrance to the Billabong would have a water feature and open space “for everyone to enjoy’’.
The park at the back end of the project, along Moore Oxley Road, would be mainly open space and landscaping, Mr Lynch said.
Cr Hunt then asked: “why didn’t we get an itemised, line by line costing of the whole project at the start?’’
While the general manager responded that it wasn’t general practice to give councillors such information because “as the project develops, fine tuning goes on, things change’’, Cr Hunt’s question really went to a failed bid in December 2021 to get such a report.
Cr Hunt did ask later a more specific question relating to that failed bid when the former mayor used his casting vote against a costings report.
The director confirmed Cr Brticevic had used his casting vote as mayor to deny councillors the opportunity to see where the money was going.
Mayor George Greiss added to the answer: “I moved for a detailed report in December 2021, and I was voted down,’’ he said.
“Our main concern was moving from an $18m to $35m project, that’s why I asked for a detailed design and cost report.’’
Two new councillors played cameo roles in the Billabong Q&A show: Cr Josh Cotter and Cr Masud Khalil.
Cr Khalil praised the project but was concerned that the operating cost would be a big burden on ratepayers.
“We should make every effort to ensure the Billabong is financially sustainable into the future,’’ he said.
As for young Cr Cotter, he lamented the timing of all of the questions being asked about the Billabong.
“For me, it is very important to have transparency and accountability, and it’s good to see that’s what’s happening here about the Billabong,’’ he told council.
“But what I wish is that these questions being asked now should have been asked in the last council, at the start of the project.’’