20 June 2022

'Morally wrong': Wagga City Council cries unfair price tag on Ambulance Station, demands answers

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
Start the conversation
Council Chambers building

Wagga City Council Chambers. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Wagga City Council wants an explanation from the NSW Government as to why Wagga was treated differently from other regional cities in buying back a public asset.

Earlier this year, the council was forced to foot a $610,000 bill to purchase back the historical ambulance station gifted to the NSW Ambulance service by the local community more than 90 years ago.

Former Wagga Mayor Greg Conkey expressed his disappointment at the recent Council meeting (14 June) when other regional councils only had to pay a “peppercorn fee” (nominal amount) of $1 to secure similar premises for their communities.

Recently the state government charged Armidale Regional Council $1 for its historical courthouse.

However, the NSW Government informed Wagga Council that it was against government policy to gift back Crown-owned assets for $1.

Along with Armidale, the public assets of Bathurst, Bombala and Tamworth have been given back to their community for $1.

The former Mayor led the campaign asking the state government to hand back ownership of the Johnson Street premise.

Mr Conkey said that despite his efforts and the efforts of the Wagga City Council, the Government refused to gift it back.

“They (NSW Government) said if you want it, you’ll have to pay for it. And if you don’t pay for it, we’ll sell it to the highest bidder,” he said

“I find that grossly offensive and morally wrong.”

READ ALSO Wagga Council’s annual grants still up for grabs, calls for youth-led initiatives

Mr Conkey explained that the State Government paid for Armidale Court House.

“Not one penny for the cost of the courthouse came from the community,” he said.

He said the courthouse is valued at about $1.5 million and the Armidale Council has no use for the building, nor do they have the funds to renovate it.

However, the ambulance station’s land and the building were paid for by Wagga residents.

World War I veteran and former Wagga Mayor Harry Gissing founded the historical ambulance station.

Mr Gissing led a committee that raised funds to build the station. The ambulance at the time provided free services to the community until operations were handed over to NSW Ambulance Service.

“The station was gifted by this community to the state government,” Mr Conkey said.

The former mayor said he had written to the Premier’s office asking them to return the $610,000 cheque to the council.

He said it took the Premier’s office three months to respond to his letter and that it has been passed on to the Minister for Local Government.

“I’m yet to hear back from the Minister for Local Government,” Mr Conkey said.

READ ALSO Riverina Water turns on the tap for grassroots projects

Councillor Dan Hayes put forward the question of why Wagga was made to pay for the old ambulance station when there were numerous examples of other councils getting their assets back for $1.

“On the face of it, this looks dodgy, unfair and this stinks,” he said.

Cr Hayes said Armidale Council receiving the courthouse for $1 negates everything the state government and ministers said to Wagga council.

“They [NSW Government] said it wasn’t possible and there was a policy that had to be adhered to … it turned out to be a lie,” he said.

“Why were some policies applied here [Wagga] and not elsewhere?”

Cr Hayes is keen to receive responses to all the questions and suspects the state government will respond by talking about other funding to Wagga to distract from the issue.

“And frankly, if the response we get doesn’t clear this up, then I think an apology followed by a refund shall be forthcoming,” Cr Hayes said.

Mayor Dallas Tout said the most galling part for him for that it was all done in good faith.

“Everything we’re told, we took it in good faith,” he said.

“Even though it was frustrating, we had to do what we did. It was all done in good faith and now it turns out not to be the case.”

Region Riverina reached out to the Minister for Local Government for comment and a spokesperson said Mr Conkey’s letter had been referred to the Minister for Health.

The spokesperson confirmed that Minister Brad Hazzard’s office had received the matter and it is under consideration.

Region Riverina‘s questions regarding the matter have also been referred to Minister Hazzard’s office.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Riverina news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riverina stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.