Total cost for the planned upgrade of Gunnedah’s animal impound facility has blown out to $4.1 million.
Gunnedah Shire Council has committed to funding at least half ($2.2 million) of the revised budget should it be successful in a new grant application.
The grant will be made under the Australian government’s Growing Regions Program which requires a 50 per cent co-contribution from the applicant.
It follows a split-decision among councillors at last week’s ordinary meeting whether it should proceed with the grant application and subsequent co-contribution for the facility.
Councillor Robert Hoddle led the opposition to the council recommendation to pursue the extra cost.
“It is way too high, I think the whole cost needs to be looked at again,” Cr Hoddle told his fellow councillors.
“We need to be realistic … you can buy a motel for that … it is ridiculous.”
He proposed an amendment, that was ultimately lost, which called for the matter to be sent back to planning for a “more economic model”.
Cr Hoddle was supported by councillor Juliana McArthur who sought more time to consider what else could be done about the facility’s projected costs.
“There are a number of unknown factors in this [and] there is concern about the cost,” she said.
Others however supported the recommendation as they considered it more hindrance to delay the project further.
“We need to do something,” Cr Colleen Fuller said.
“The longer we leave it, the dearer it’s going to get.”
Those sentiments were echoed by councillor Ann Luke.
“Prices are just going up,” she said.
“I don’t think we need to waste any more time on models, I will be voting for it.”
A Gunnedah Shire Council spokesperson said the increased costs were directly related to external pressures.
“Material and labour costs have risen steeply in the past few years since the start of the pandemic, with nationwide escalation of the cost of projects,” the spokesperson said.
“The cost for the project has increased significantly in accordance with nationwide – and global – trends since it was first proposed.”
Council would fund its co-contribution primarily through an existing state grant already approved under the Stronger Country Communities Fund Round 5 ($1,017,026). A further $500,000 will be funded by a Voluntary Planning Agreement contribution from Whitehaven Coal and $697,135 from other council funding sources.
Any proposed funding secured by the new grant would not be available until “sometime in 2024” according to council’s July business paper, meaning council would need to account for an additional $775,000 in further expected cost increases.
Council’s acting director of planning and environment Wade Berryman told councillors the current animal impound facility processed about 200 dogs last year and 95 per cent were re-homed.
He said the existing facilities were not compliant with animal welfare standards and it was “not uncommon” for an enclosure to house more than one animal at a time.
Council states the upgrade of the Gunnedah impound facility would deliver a facility catering to future population growth and rising pet ownership.
It would include separate cattery and kennels, staff office space and customer reception areas, with facility rooms that incorporate temporary dog pens, a vet room, laundry, food preparation room, storage amenities, garage, rehoming animal orientation space and grassed free range exercise area.
According to the business paper, the new facility would provide options for welfare and rescue groups to make direct, safe drop off and pickups from the building and the inclusion of vet assessment and treatment rooms would significantly reduce the impost on regulatory services staff to take already stressed animals into the local veterinary hospital for treatment.
It would also include the establishment of a separate access road to the facility to allow for future subdivision of the animal impound facility from the waste facility to mitigate any risk of environmental impact from either facility to the other, in line with EPA requirements.
Council was expected to now lodge an expression of interest with the government to ensure the project meet eligibility requirements, project readiness and program suitability, and is aligned with regional priorities for the area. The formal grant application must then be submitted by December 12, 2023, and projects must be completed by December 31, 2025.
Should council be unsuccessful in its grant application, the spokesperson said options for the animal impoundment facility would be reviewed.
The animal impound facility cost increase follows similar budget blow outs on other major infrastructure in Gunnedah.
It was recently announced the full design plans for the $53 million Gunnedah Hospital redevelopment would not be able to be delivered under budget. Last year costs for Gunnedah’s proposed koala sanctuary increased by $6.2 million on the original forecast.