To sell or not to sell — but is that the right question?

April 19, 2017

The Wistaria cafe site in the Port of Echuca might suddenly become private property if the Shire of Campaspe takes up a recommendation in its council agenda this week.

IT’S no secret Campaspe Shire is on a mission to save money.

It has publicised it ever since the Victorian Government introduced the rate cap last year, forcing council to significantly rein in its expenditure on the back of a 5 per cent increase in the 2015/16 budget.

Most, if not all, ratepayers would have to tip their hat to the organisation for working as hard as it has to achieve savings since then.

But of course council must understand there is a line when it comes to achieving savings.

And recommending it sell the Wistaria property — a historic Port of Echuca business — has crossed it for me.

Council only needs to read its own sign, stuck to the fence on the property, which was thrown on the potential chopping block last night, to know why.

In 1975 the (then) City of Echuca purchased Wistaria Tea Rooms to protect the heritage character and integrity of the port precinct.

So why now is council circa 2017 trying to undermine that integrity?

The fact a local business could be thrown out the door if it is sold is concern enough. Isn’t it?

Council is expected to receive between $700,000-$1 million for the sale, and save $200,000 on future site maintenance.

That’s a lot of money.

And I can hear councillors asking me, before I even write the words, where should we find savings of equal value if not from the Wistaria building?

Honestly, the answer is; I don’t know. But it’s not my responsibility — that’s what we are paying the people in the shire to get right.

But I do know selling a Port of Echuca property and stopping a local business from trading is not the answer.

I’ve heard many ratepayers encourage council to achieve savings.

But not one of them has said ‘at whatever the cost’.

And this cost (Wistaria) is too high.

There are many things Campaspe Shire, the organisation, is to be congratulated on. And I think there will be many more pats on the back to come its way.

The shire has paved the way for a potentially great future for Echuca and surrounds.

You only have to read last Friday’s Riverine Herald — and how much work is being done to revitalise our town (a lot by Campaspe Shire) — to know that.

But I would hate for council to be remembered by its mistakes of selling Wistaria.

You could suggest this editorial is jumping the gun. A recommendation simply went to council last night. And while a decision was expected to be made, at the time of going to print yesterday, we did not know what that would be.

For all we know, while not an option recommended by the council officer, councillors could have voted to keep the building.

Still, we must let it be known when council gets too close to crossing the line.

And for me, this one was and is just too close, whatever the decision.

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