FREMANTLE councillors have ordered a full report into the cost of the Kings Square redevelopment to “draw a line” under questions about the city’s transparency.
New councillor Fedele Camarda moved an amendment to a standard agenda update at Wednesday’s council meeting, calling for a report that delves back to the 2012 business plan that first outlined how the council was going to pay for its new admin centre and square upgrades.
Cr Camarda said the Walyalup Civic Centre was the city’s most significant development in years and was a “magnificent building” which had now won multiple awards. But he said it’s construction hadn’t been without challenges and controversy along the way.
“I believe it’s vital to understand where we stand now that the project is all but complete, to enable us to make future decisions and lead us to a time when we can appreciate its true value and ongoing benefits,” Cr Camarda said.
He then handed over to colleague Marija Vujcic who has been vocal in disputing the council’s reported costs.
Cr Vujcic said while she and the admin were coming closer on agreeing to the total cost, after 18 months of sleuthing she still was finding holes in the figures.
“There is beauty in numbers,” she said.
She said the CEO had given her figures showing the new library cost $15.6m and the civic centre $24.95, yet a budget figure in Wednesday’s agenda showed a $46m spend.
“Just from this narrative I know there’s something not quite adding up,” she said.
Cr Vujcic also claimed the admin had been blaming the auditor general’s office for delays in presenting the figures from the last financial year, yet she could a different response when she checked.
“The answers are not flash,” she said, reading out the response she’d received from them: “The OAG is due to issue the audit report in July. This delay is the result of a number of factors which we will discuss with the city to assist with the delivery of future audits in a timelier manner,” Cr Vujcic read.
“This suggests to me that the additional information comes from the city in terms of being able to finalise the annual financials.
“It is worrying because we’re going to be moving off into a new financial year without dealing with the previous one.”
Mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge said she’s support the motion for a report, but qualified it by saying it wasn’t because she believed the square’s cost had been misrepresented.
“It’s not because I think there’s a problem and the deputy mayor and I have been forensically through the information with the offers as you would when it’s presented to understand if there’s any smoking gun.”
But the mayor acknowledged the city had “a communication problem” and hadn’t “neatly and tidily reported” the various elements of the project over the last few years.
Cr Jenny Archibald said she “admired the courage” former councillors had when they approved the square redevelopment, but said it would be good to now have a “snapshot” of what the project cost.
She said in 2017 the council was told the civic centre would cost around $50m, and it had been delivered somewhere near $53.5m.
“They were the figures that were projected in 2017, and I defy any organisation to go through a period of what we had over that five years to come out as well as we have,” she said, referencing Covid, the collapse of the city’s builder and now high inflation rates.
Cr Andrew Sullivan, one of the few remaining councillors who voted on the business plan in 2017, said without the redevelopment, the square would still be blighted by underperforming buildings.
“Every one of those decisions was made with a significant amount of information in front of us and with the absolute best of intents,” Cr Sullivan said.
“And do I regret any of them? No.”
by STEVE GRANT