Minister probes 'missing millions'
By MEGAN KINNINMENT
THE BYRON Shire Council is under investigation by NSW Local Government Minister Tony Kelly amid accusations it mishandled close to $1 million dollars of developer contributions.
The Bangalow Chamber of Commerce has lodged a formal complaint to the Minister, alleging the council had been 'unprofessional and incompetent' in its handling of Section 94 funds collected for Bangalow over a period of 10 years.
A spokesperson for Mr Kelly yesterday confirmed the complaint had been referred to an investigation and review branch to determine whether the council had transgressed the Local Government Act, with a final response to be issued by the end of December.
If found guilty, the council could face being reprimanded.
The council's general manager, Pamela Westing, said legal advice was being sought, but S94 was a 'complicated' issue.
"With S94 funds, usually the council has to match the developer's contributions," she said.
Strict rules govern how S94 monies are collected and spent, Ms Westing said, with complex equations based on how much is spent on new residents, and how much is used for existing residents.
With cash-strapped councils then having to 'match' a certain proportion of the contributions, many community projects remained unrealised.
"The chamber is right in saying this is the tip of the iceberg," Ms Westing said.
"There are hundreds of millions of dollars tied up in developer contributions across the State. We need changes to the legislation."
However, Bangalow Chamber of Commerce president, Michael Malloy, does not want to hear any more reasons for delays.
"Bangalow has been neglected by this council," he said.
The chamber claims the council had initially denied that it was holding the S94 funds and it was only after several years of 'sleuthing' that they uncovered $960,000 of unspent developer contributions.
A year after the find, hailed by the chamber as 'The Great Discovery', they are still battling to get council to spend the money.
"While funds collected for open space were used for the purchase of land for sporting fields and swimming pool ... the council has shown itself to be incapable of managing the necessary mechanisms to commit to spending any of the remaining S94 funds," the chamber told Mr Kelly.
Mr Malloy wants the council to come up with a plan of action on spending the money.
"If the S94 funds are not spent within a 'reasonable' time the developer can ask for them back," he said.
There is still an estimated $600,000 in S94 funds not spent in Bangalow, which the chamber wants used to fix cracked pavements, improve roads and provide new bench seating.
Pamela Westing can offer the chamber no quick fixes.