A decision to grant a $1 annual lease to a community group with alleged links to sitting councillors sparked angry scenes at a Surf Coast council meeting this week.
Councillors clashed during debate over whether Anglesea Airey’s Inlet Society for the Protection of Flora and Fauna could enter into a “peppercorn” rent agreement to remain at its council-supplied home.
Angair has occupied the building at 3 McMillan Street, Anglesea, since 1997 without a rental agreement.
The organisation paid almost no rent until the shire moved to formalise the arrangement this week.
Anglesea’s Beth Davidson led councillors arguing in favour of Angair paying less than two cents a week for its council-owned building.
Cr Davidson said the group had worked tirelessly to preserve the environment.
She questioned why Angair should pay market value for its headquarters when Torquay Football Club paid nothing for its Spring Creek Reserve ground.
But Torquay councillor Ron Humphrey accused Angair of promoting councillors in the lead up to the last election.
“I have had a number of people from the community say Angair is involved in political lobbying for councillors to get elected,” Cr Humphrey said.
“To their credit, they did reply publicly that they do not support any councillors but they do support (Mayor) Libby Mears.”
Cr Humphrey said the organisation was in a strong financial position, with more than $100,000 in the bank and an annual income of over $30,000.
The group could afford to pay more, he said.
“The football club has to pay a $20,000 loan it took out to pay for improvements to its ground yet the shire is paying for a new kitchen, new carpet and painting at Angair’s offices without asking for a cent,” he said.
Cr Roly Livingston earlier moved an amendment to the shire officers’ recommendation for a peppercorn lease, saying other community groups had a right to tender for the rooms.
After his motion was defeated Cr Rose Hodge attempted to raise a motion to waive any rental contributions from the group after the officers originally recommended an annual charge of $104.
However, shire chief Peter Bollen interjected to say the minimum amount required to ratify a lease agreement was $1 a year.