Will Marrickville Councillors really vote for a ‘blow-out budget’?

How much for Arlington?!?

One of the most troubling aspects of Marrickville Council’s vote to artificially turf Arlington Reserve is “the numbers” – the actual cost to rate payers, both capital costs, and on-going operational costs – and particularly how many of these costs have NOT been included in the draft 2013/2014 capital or operating budgets, or in fact any public document.  Let me give you an example:

In 2009, Marrickville Council’s estimate to convert Arlington to artificial turf was $1.1 Million.

In the February 2013 report on options to be considered for Arlington, no specific figure was presented, but perhaps some Councillor’s deemed it reasonable to expect that it would be about the same as in 2009, give or take, but in so doing they ignored the volatility of global markets (where artificial turf is made) in the last few years, the new carbon tax that commenced last year, and other ever-escalating costs.

But what Council’s February 2013 report did list was a range of capital expenses, many of them not even specified with $ figures, merely mentioned.  Things like “the removal of between 300 to 500 mm of soil” (30 to 50 cm), to make way for the new surface and its underlying support structure, and a new drainage system (that’s right, Marrickville Council will be throwing away the brand new natural turf drainage system installed just 3 years ago).  If Council had even reasonable estimates of such costs, why not specify them?

After some ‘back of the envelope’ calculations (estimating the field to be 105m by 65m, removing just 300mm of soil, estimating 1 cubic meter of soil weighs 1700kg (could well be heavier, given Arlington’s hard clay soil), and where land-fill costs rose sharply by up to 20% after last year’s Carbon Tax commenced, now at around $95 per metric tonne in Sydney), it could cost Marrickville rate payers at least $330,000 just to dispose of this soil.  OK, so soil isn’t “municipal waste” and may well be somewhat cheaper to dispose of, or perhaps Marrickville Council knows of someone or somewhere else willing to accept 3500 metric tonnes – 3.5 million kilograms – of soil…

But this is just one example!  Others costs named, but not specified or itemised in Council’s report include:  soil testing, drainage works, paving to reduce mud-tracking, soil and drainage modification, fencing and lighting improvements, site investigations, and traffic/parking management plans.  Ongoing costs for artificial turf maintenance include operation of (labour) and maintenance of the $47,000 “specialist grooming machine” (unspecified), $10,000 for FIFA Accreditation every 3 years, and around $500,000 for disposal of the artificial turf surface every 8 to 10 years.

But our question is, were these costs included in the 2009 $1.1M estimate, or in the 2013/2014 draft budget?  With the absence of specific costing of so many items in the February 2013 report, and a Council staffer who mentioned in the 16th April general Council meeting that ‘the tender process had barely begun’, it seems unlikely.

So what exactly did Council vote for on 19th February?  Do they even know, with any reasonable estimate, what this project is really going to cost?

And what exactly will they be voting for next month when they approve the draft 2013/2014 capital and operational budgets, which include a lower figure of $950,000 for artificially turfing Arlington?

If Council does have fair estimates of these costs, why not publish them?  It would go a LONG way to dissipating the high level of mistrust and acrimony that currently exists between Council and citizens on this issue.  Or would these figures confirm the farcical sleight-of-hand that it *appears* to be?

Has a situation been orchestrated, or simply transpired, where this project will commence without either Councillors or citizens being fully informed of even fair estimates of actual costs, and once the true costs are known be in a position where it’s too late to stop?  A ‘budget blow-out’ like this seems 100% preventable.

Do the people pushing this artificial turf agenda even care what it costs?  Or is it just a Trophy Project, and a political situation being exploited to ‘make good’ on the disappointment some voters might have felt when they were denied a plasticised Arlington Reserve in 2009, all justified on the laughably shallow argument from certain Councillors that they ‘tried in 2010, they put down new turf and a new drainage system and had it all laser-levelled, but the pitch keeps failing!  What else can they do?!?’, they shrug faux-helplessly.

For how much longer will Marrickville Council avoid responsibility for the mistake it made several years ago in allowing TWO soccer clubs to call Arlington ‘Home’ (in contravention of their own governing body – Football NSW’s – recommendations) and making Arlington “unique” in the entire Marrickville LGA, and play on it at competition levels of wear-and-tear clearly in excess of Arlington’s ability to cope, with the utterly predictable result that at the end of every winter soccer season the pitch is deemed unacceptable for play?

Artificial turf may address that problem, but at what cost to rate payers, with clear consequences to local residents, and at the expense of which other Marrickville LGA facilities and community members struggling for funding for far more basic services?

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