Gunnedah shire councillors have voted against recommendations to decline financial assistance for community groups using the Gunnedah Showground.

It follows the November meeting of Gunnedah Shire Council where the director infrastructure services’ report recommended it save costs and refuse assistance for the 2024 Gunnedah Country Music Muster, Riding for Disabled Gunnedah and Namoi Horse Association.

Instead, councillors reached a compromise where 50 per cent of assistance sought will be provided for two of the three applicants.

Council’s recommendations were based on the showground’s $200,000-plus annual maintenance costs which far exceeded the facility’s revenue of just $50,000.

In correspondence to council, the country music muster coordinator requested that “all fees” be waived for its 2024 event. These fees were estimated by council to be almost $2000.

This included hire of the Griffith Hall, labour costs for cleaning, cleaning amenities as well as the delivery and collection of bins and chairs for the event.

In its explanation for the recommendation, council detailed its long-running financial support for the music muster which totalled more than $6000 from 2021-23.

The shire also elaborated how it had spent $208,000 on maintaining the Gunnedah Showground in the 2022-23 financial year – this did not include expenses for capital improvements at the venue.

In the same period, council received just $50,000 in revenue for the showground from licence fees, booking fees and AgQuip camping fees.

Council was presented with two options to consider at the meeting – decline the request or approve the request for waiving of fees.

For this item, Cr Robert Hoddle declared a conflict of interest and left the room while the matter was considered.

Councillor Kate McGrath moved the latter part of the motion, to approve the waiver, and this was seconded by Cr Colleen Fuller. But when asked to speak on moving the motion, Cr McGrath declined to comment.

Deputy mayor Rob Hooke initially spoke against the motion to approve, highlighting the muster’s strong Gunnedah reception over recent years.

He thought the event had now reached a “profitable level” for organisers and did not require the financial backing of ratepayers.

“It has got to the point where council no longer needs to support the event,” he said.

“The amount of money that is spent on that showground precinct is enormous but the amount in return we get is quite little.

“The muster has the traction now to stand on its own feet and pay for the facilities.”

Cr Fuller was “saddened” by the suggestion the muster should pay its own way. She said the event had reinvested funds back into the Gunnedah Show Society and suggested council support the event “one last time”.

The Gunnedah Times reported how this year’s muster attracted more than 100 caravans across Australia for the five-day event. Professional country music artists and walk-up performers played to audience members, many who return every year for the Gunnedah event.

Councillor Ann Luke proposed an amendment, which was ultimately carried, that council instead approve a contribution of $999 for the 2024 muster. This amount represented 50 per cent of original costs expected.

“I think that shows we recognise the benefit the country music muster provides for this town and is moving toward them standing on their own feet,” Cr Luke said.

Cr Hooke agreed the amendment was “a good compromise” for all parties involved in the muster.

Councillors were also recommended to decline fee waiver for Namoi Horse Association which totalled $309. Costs related to the licence fee for the tech paddock which is considered part of the Gunnedah Showground for the purposes of operational costs and bookings.

Council said not only were there high costs associated with administration and maintenance of land that it manages on behalf of the Crown or leases from the state government but the user groups had also agreed to the fees when signing agreements with council. For this item, Cr Robert Hoddle declared a conflict of interest and left the room while the matter was considered.

The motion to decline assistance was moved “regretfully” by Cr Hooke and seconded by Cr Fuller.

“There is a limit to how we can be kind to these organisations,” Cr Hooke said.

He sympathised the organisation does not have a lot of money but reasoned many of the shire’s ratepayers didn’t either.

“I think we need to be careful how we distribute our funds,” he added.

Councillors were also recommended to decline $1849 in licensing fee waivers for RDA Gunnedah. These fees also related to the tech paddock as well as areas utilised on Alford Road and Talbot Road in Gunnedah’s industrial area.

For this item, Cr Hooke declared a conflict of interest left the council chamber while the matter was considered.

Cr McGrath moved the motion to deny the fee waiver, this was seconded by Cr Fuller.

Councillor Murray O’Keefe said given the “quantum” of fees incurred by the RDA was almost $2000, he thought council was in the position to “wean” RDA off the financial support.

“I understand [RDA] has community and corporate partners but it is a big change in its operating budget,” he said.

Cr O’Keefe moved an amendment, later carried, that council waive 50 per cent of the RDA fees.

“I thought a gradual approach to removing the support on this topic was the right way to move,” he said.

Both the country music muster and RDA Gunnedah fee waiver proposals will now be publicly exhibited for 28 days at Gunnedah Shire Council as per the requirements of Section 356 of the NSW Local Government Act 1993.

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