By Matt Dunn
ENGINEERS are ready to examine outdoor pools throughout the South Gippsland Shire, as the prospect of closing the ageing facilities again comes up for discussion.
Spiralling upkeep costs and tighter budgets are threatening many of South Gippsland’s favourite summer time and recreational haunts.
“It’s a difficult one. To me pools are iconic, but they are open for 13 weeks and they cost a lot of money,” South Gippsland Shire Council mayor Cr Jim Fawcett said.
This year’s council budget will allow for about half a million dollars for pool maintenance.
The Star revealed last year that pools could face closure, after a council-commissioned report suggested that it may be wise to “consolidate outdoor pools”.
Councillors discussed the findings of a report on the state of the shire’s pools during a special meeting in Inverloch on Saturday.
But the issue will now be put on the backburner until October.
“It’s one of those things we’ve got some time with, because infrastructure requirements at the moment are just maintenance. But the shelf life of most of the pools is coming to an end,” mayor Jim Fawcett said.
“At some stage we’re going to open a pool and find it fails. We know we haven’t got a lot of time. It’s a sensitive issue and we need to get everyone’s views.”
Several pools had been identified in the report as being at risk. Wonthaggi, Mirboo North, Poowong, Foster, Korumburra and Toora are all approaching the end of their “shelf life,” Cr Fawcett said.
South Gippsland Shire Council needs about $20 million dollars to keep its pools afloat, but with an annual budget of about $40 million for all services, the money will be tough, if not impossible, to find.
Cr Fawcett said council could receive government grants for some of the repairs, so not all the money would need to come out of its coffers.
In the end, though, it may be a decision for future councils.
“I personally think we’ll put in a plan, because it will be future councils that will make the decision. We’ll put in a plan to replace three or four of them or all of them,” he said.
“We’ll indicate to the community what sort of savings we have to make for that, and we can at least give future councils cash reserves to fix them if they want. But future councils and communities may want to spend $3 million on something else in that community.
“We’d like to get to the situation with people where we say, you can have this or you can have that, but you can’t have both. Where do you want to see it spent?”
Cr Warren Raabe said there was little money in the council budget for the extra costs associated with the facilities.
“We’ve got the swimming pools that we’re looking at – all of them over 50 or 60 years. Do we have millions of dollars to spend on them? The bottom line is we probably don’t, so we have to consider what we do in case of a failure in one of them,” he said.
“We’ve been told that that is likely to occur. We haven’t got engineers reports on that and we’ve requested them. We’re doing our due diligence on that, but at some stage they’re going to fail.
“That’s just one piece of infrastructure that we look at and think at some stage that’s got to be replaced. Even looking at Splash, we should be putting half a million dollars a year away to replace that at the end of its useful life. But you don’t have that sort of money.”
Cr Raabe said the money and resources of South Gippsland Shire Council was being stretched by State Government impositions, including increased costs associated with library funding, coastal planning and increased waste collection levies, leaving little extra cash for recreational facilities.
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