Newcastle Council will seek an almost $23 million dollar loan to fund the Newcastle Art Gallery expansion, despite opposition from Independent councillors.
Six Labor councillors and the Greens’ John Mackenzie backed Tuesday night’s motion to pursue a 10 year loan with the Treasury Corporation, but Independents and sole Liberal Brad Luke opposed the move.
Cr John Church said ratepayers deserved to provide feedback on the plans, and other approaches to funding should have been considered beforehand.
“The decision last night, I think was rushed,” Cr Church said. “We didn’t give the community a chance to say whether they want the council to take out a 10 year loan of nearly $23 million dollars.”
“And we didn’t ask the second question – if we do want that money, is the Art Gallery the community’s priority project?”
Cr Church also suggested an incremental approach to the works with the money currently available could prompt State or Federal investment.
But Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes shot down the possibility, saying Cr Church’s comments demonstrated “complete ignorance” about capital works projects.
“You cannot stage this project,” Cr Nelmes said. “Instead of being a project that costs around $35 million dollars, staging it is likely to double.”
The Newcastle Art Gallery also endorsed the move, citing historically low interest rates.
Cr Nelmes said it was a vote of confidence in arts and tourism.
“It has been on the books for over 16 years and there has been no State or Federal Government funding that is forthcoming,” Cr Nelmes said.
“There is a pathway to ensuring this project is delivered for our community, at a very low cost to ratepayers, at 0.88 of a percent.”
Cr Church maintained the council was putting “the cart before the horse”.
“The community should have been asked the question and had a chance to have their say prior to Labor rushing this decision,” Cr Church said.