Holy cow! Shire buys church in secret
A MAJORITY of Golden Plains Shire councillors have voted to, and subsequently purchased, a church at Smythesdale.
The move was approved after two behind closed-door meetings.
With a municipal representative then buying the St Mary’s Catholic Church and surrounding land on Brooke Street at auction for $384,000 on Saturday, 30 July.
During a special secret council meeting at 4pm the day before, mayor Cr Gavin Gamble, deputy-mayor Cr Helena Kirby and Crs Brett Cunningham and Ian Getsom backed the purchase, allocating up to $450,000 to be used during the auction.
The issue had also been discussed in camera at a regular council meeting the previous Tuesday with a maximum figure of $550,000 proposed, although that resolution was unable to find majority support.
As the official spokesperson for Golden Plains Shire and council decisions, Cr Gamble was contacted for interview several times but refused to take part, instead issuing a brief statement.
“Council is pleased to have secured this valuable location,” his statement said.
“While the future use of the site will be determined by council in the future, the purchase was motivated by the public sale of the property and it’s (sic) strategic location adjacent to The Well and the heritage precinct.”
Cr Owen Sharkey, along with Crs Les Rowe and Clayton Whitfield, voted against the move and Cr Sharkey was critical of the process behind the purchase.
“It’s very important to be open and transparent,” he said. “The way this has come about is not right.
“If this was so important to us, I just don’t know why a conversation couldn’t be had two or three years ago with the Catholic Church.
“There’s several risks involved with the old church being there, and from all the reports we have is that the church will be difficult to demolish.
“Ratepayers like myself get frustrated that council can never find a few thousand dollars for issues around the Shire but yet we magically just pull a figure of $550,000 out for something that we’ve been told is only worth $340,000.”
The church, which sits on 1350 square meters of land, was originally located at Haddon and moved to Smythesdale in 1959 with the grounds consecrated in 1965.
The building was sold by a trust for the Catholic Church and while regular services ended about 12 months ago a large funeral was held at the site more recently.
Before the auction, or council’s decision, no public consultation was held on the purchase and that lack of process didn’t sit well with Cr Sharkey.
“One of the reasons I voted against it is because we didn’t have that community consultation,” he said.
“I understand parcels of land may need to be strategically purchased, but we should have a policy behind that where the ratepayers of the Shire are given the opportunity for feedback to guide us in situations like this.
“We should have been having this meeting weeks ago, the auction didn’t pop up on Tuesday.”
With $384,000, not including stamp duty and legal fees, spent on buying the church, Cr Sharkey questioned who was going to miss out on services or resources following the “unbudgeted spend.”
“We didn’t have any community consultation, but more importantly, we didn’t have any money allocated in the budget,” he said.
As for what the land will be used for now it’s owned by the municipality, there are a lot of ideas but no plans.
Cr Getsom supported the purchase and praised the outcome.
“This is for the community,” he said. “We didn’t buy the church, we bought the land and that was to seal the historic precinct off.
“What it becomes after this, I don’t know, we haven’t discussed it because we haven’t had time.
“I’m happy it was bought for below the recommended price, which means we have some change.
“It’s a great outcome for all the ratepayers and council.”
One of the suggested justifications for the purchase of the land was to extend the nearby municipally owned and run facility known as The Well.
Yet in between the church grounds and The Well as a right-of-way providing rear access and parking to the Woady Yaloak Historical Society building in the old courthouse.
Historical Society acting-president Pauline Riches said she supported the land purchase and its use as a public space.
However, with a right-of-way running between The Well and the purchased land, Ms Riches said she didn’t support cutting off access to the back of the Historical Society’s building.
“I think it’s a brilliant idea, as long as we don’t lose all the carparking,” she said. “I would like to see the right-of-way maintained.
“The [church] building is pretty old and decrepit, and if you were going to do anything you’d have to demolish it, it’s not worth conserving, but we’ll take lots of photos.”