Cr claims ratepayers ‘misled’

Cr Marija Vujcic said she put the puzzle pieces together to find Fremantle council’s new civic centre cost $20m more than it claimed.

A FREMANTLE councillor has claimed Fremantle council has been “misleading” ratepayers over the cost of its new civic centre, which she says is around $20 million over budget.

The claim has been rejected by the council’s new CEO Glen Dougall, who says their figures have been checked and cleared by the state auditor general.

Cr Marija Vujcic told Wednesday’s meeting she’d taken two years putting together a “financial jigsaw” but was now convinced the final cost of the Walyalup Civic Centre was somewhere between $61m – $67.

The council’s own tally puts the figure at $46.7m, with a couple of hundred grand left in the kitty.

“To state that we are $371,679 positive balance against the building construction costs is at best misleading,” Cr Vujcic said.

She said the 2012 business plan had listed the total project cost at $45m, underpinned by the sale of three council properties and a $15m loan from state Treasury.

“In my 2.5 years on council, the $45m total project cost was never referenced against any of the financial reporting presented to me.

“However, we cannot ignore the business plan, nor what we sold to ratepayers.

“From 2012 to 2018 understandably there was a lot of work done to prepare the project: I would hypothesise that during this time, it was becoming clear that this civic building was going to cost significantly more than $45m.

“We didn’t go back and revisit the Kings Square Business Plan and make the correction as we should have.”

Cr Vujcic, who ran for mayor last year on a ticket that included a forensic auditor, said the council filled the new shortfall by selling three additional carparks, but the city now had no way of redeeming their revenue, while the council has yet to fill either its top floor, cafe site or retail spaces with tenants.

“So three car parks were sold off for approximately $7.8m, there was an increase in state government borrowing from $15m to $20m.

“So the additional funds made available for this project was $12.5m – $12.8m; plus $45m which is $57.8m.

“The June 2021 audited financials show another $11.3m to be spent on projects of which $9.3m is to be spent on the Walyalup Civic Centre.

“So you add $9.3m plus $57.8m, you get the total project cost to date to be around about $67-odd million.”

Cr Vujcic said without tenants, it was ratepayers who were paying off the bigger loan.

“I now understand that a horrendous rate increase of 20 per cent – not that I would advocate it – but it wouldn’t even touch the sides.

“I now understand why we have no money for any significant maintenance, nor any significant money to spend on the activation of the city.

“One could come to the conclusion that the City of Fremantle financials are really in ICU; we lost our financial buffer.”

Mr Dougall told the Herald that aside from having confidence in the council’s audited figures, it would take some time to understand and examine Cr Vujcic’s claims given they were only presented on Wednesday evening.

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