Second audit for Wells St spending

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Street strife: Spending on the Wells St revamp is set to be audited for a second time after Frankston councillors voted to put the project under the microscope again. Picture: Gary Sissons

RATEPAYERS could pay another $25,000 for a second audit of the revamp of Wells St last year that went at least $1.7 million over its original budget.

A 5-3 majority of councillors at the 25 September public council meeting backed a notice of motion by Cr Colin Hampton for council to allocate up to $25,000 for “a full forensic audit” of the Wells St redevelopment originally budgeted at $3.5 million.

Cr Hampton described an audit of five major construction projects in Frankston, ordered in June last year by councillors during the previous four-year council term, as “scathing” at the September council meeting.

That internal council audit, at a cost of $29,000 to ratepayers, was carried out by Pitcher Partners and analysed the upgrade to Wells St, the construction of a new war memorial at Beauty Park, the refurbishment of the Frankston Yacht Club, the building of the Frankston Football Club Function Centre and a clubhouse extension for the Frankston Bombers at Baxter Reserve.

The Pitcher Partners audit also analysed council’s management of capital works projects.

The Wells St project was mired in controversy after The Times first reported 11 bench seats cost $13,830 each, four circular seats cost $12,820 each and 18 planters were $8670 each (“Street spending under scrutiny”, The Times 14/6/16).

It later emerged that 17 street lights cost $19,000 each taking the total spending on furniture and lights to just over $833,000.

“We have just recently received a scathing report on several of council’s projects – this is one of them,” Cr Hampton said.

“We are here to manage the affairs and the budgets of this council. Now, when we get a report from Pitcher Partners which have showed in many projects we have gone over budget there are two things we can do. We can sit on our hands and let it keep happening or find some answers as to why it’s been happening and fix it.

“Once we’ve got the report back on this, I believe that we could put the recommendations from this into a report on the yacht club, on the war memorial and the football club [function centre].”

Cr Hampton was one of five councillors — including present councillors Cr Glenn Aitken, Brian Cunial and Sandra Mayer — who voted 5-4 to expand the scope of the Pitcher Partners audit last year to include four other projects and not just the Wells St upgrade as proposed by Cr Darrel Taylor at the time.

At the latest meeting Crs Hampton, Cunial, Mayer plus Michael O’Reilly and Lillian O’Connor voted to now order a forensic audit of the Wells St project.

Crs Aitken, Quinn McCormack and Steve Toms voted against the additional audit while Cr Kris Bolam abstained from voting.

Cr Aitken was part of a council working party that oversaw the Wells St upgrade.

“I believe that there’s been a thorough audit already conducted on Wells St along with the other projects that were audited,” Cr Aitken said at the latest meeting.

“As far as the street furnishings go — the chairs, the planters and the lights — all of those things came before this council. The scope in so far as that was concerned, bearing in mind that is, in fact, a minor part of the overall budget, the changes that took place there were, in fact, changed or approved of by full council including you, Colin Hampton.”

Cr Bolam believed council should not be digging up the Wells St controversy again.

“If councillors felt there were issues in terms of councillor involvement or council interference, those issues should have been identified when the audit was being put together, not when $26,000 has been spent,” he said at the meeting.

“We shouldn’t be going backwards as far as I’m concerned. Wells St was a disgrace in terms of how it was rolled out. The public consultation was minimal but we move on.”

Cr Hampton disagreed.

“We need to know why we overspent millions of dollars on this project and then we can do something to stop it. As a council, we need to take responsibility.”

The forensic audit will be available to councillors in January next year.

First published in the Frankston Times – 9 October 2017

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