Wagga City Council will resume its quest for a refund on the former Wagga Wagga Ambulance Station on Johnston Street despite the change of government.
At Monday’s meeting, Councillor Dan Hayes again raised the festering issue and suggested it be followed up with the new NSW Labor Government.
“With the change of state government, the advocacy for the ambulance station money to be returned to council doesn’t end,” he said.
The issue dates back to the previous administration’s decision to sell the former ambulance asset to the community at half its appraised value, rather than a token amount of $1 as was subsequently done in other LGAs.
After attempting to negotiate for the empty building that was originally built by the city and gifted to the NSW government, the council was told that selling assets for a ”peppercorn fee” was not policy and the council dished out $610,000.
But just a few months later, when the City of Armidale was handed a former courthouse for just $1, Wagga Council began campaigning for a refund.
Cr Hayes accused the government of “pork barrelling by stealth”, pointing out that other examples had occurred in electorates held by the National Party.
A war of words erupted with Nationals MLC Wes Fang, who accused the council of being “childish” and highlighted the Coalition government’s ongoing investment in the community.
With new Labor Premier Chris Minns in the process of establishing his Cabinet, Cr Hayes said he was keen to make the Government aware of the outstanding debt.
“I think it’s incumbent upon the new Government to right the wrongs of the previous one. You don’t get to wash your hands of it completely,” he said.
“As councillors know, when you get elected you inherit what’s been done in the past. It’s not a whole new book, it’s a new chapter.”
Freshly returned independent local member Dr Joe McGirr has confirmed that he will also be raising the matter.
“I think we need to keep pushing on it,” he said.
“The key issue for me is that there are other buildings that have been in other parts of the state that have clearly been gifted to the community and there’s no explanation as to why this is different.”
”The Ambo”, as it has been dubbed, is currently being overhauled to transform it into a creative arts hub managed by Eastern Riverina Arts.
It will also become the new home of the Wagga Business Chamber with offices and studio space leased to aspiring arts businesses.
The council has highlighted the ongoing investment in the building and the flow-on costs to the tenants as the primary reason for wanting the money returned to the city.
“I do believe the government had information on the repairs that were needed for the facility, but it’s a new Government and now we need to continue to press the case,” Dr McGirr said.
Wagga City Council supported Cr Hayes’ call to revisit the issue.
“A crude analogy would be that they have found a purse full of money and they know who it belongs to,” Cr Hayes said.
“I think it’s incumbent on them to return it, even though they’re not the ones who took it.
“This fight hasn’t ended.”