“Pay for it yourself”, ratepayer told

One of the Trevor Terrace retaining walls after being signed-off
as “finished.”

A PROPOSAL to reimburse a New Norfolk ratepayer for the cost of completing a retaining wall has been rejected by the majority of Derwent Valley councillors.

Councillor Paul Belcher told the April council meeting that program to complete the long-overdue retaining wall improvements at the western end of Trevor Tce, New Norfolk, had come in $50,000 under budget after the project approved by councillors had been modified by persons unknown, resulting in several residences receiving shorter-than-expected walls.
“Who made the decision to override councillor decisions, to reduce the height of the wall?” Cr Belcher asked. “Why didn’t this come back to council to make this decision? I don’t mind seeing savings but when it is told to us by the ratepayer it becomes a lack of communication,” he said.
In a written answer, council infrastructure and development services manager Richard Blackwell  advised that the height of the retaining walls had been “communicated and viewed by all affected  owners through the duration of the works.”
“All residents were advised at the initial consultation period, and through the duration of [the] project, that if additional works were required, they could make arrangements with the contractor at their own cost,” Mr Blackwell said.
Cr Belcher followed up with a notice of motion to the May council meeting, proposing that a ratepayer be reimbursed for work that he completed after the council had finished at the front of his property in Trevor Tce. Cr Belcher’s motion was seconded by Cr Barry Lathey. 
“My understanding of the retaining wall project was that there was insufficient money to finish the project last year so council decided to add more money, which it did,” Cr Belcher said. “Now the work is completed, some of the retaining walls are shorter than expected, resulting in the project being under budget by $50,000 which seems to have come from shortcuts in the project,” he said.
“The gentleman is not seeking any money for his time to do the work, which was a full week, but he  would be happy to be repaid his expenses for materials. Maybe the amount owing could be reimbursed to the gentleman’s rates,” Cr Belcher said. 
A written “management comment” responding to Cr Belcher’s motion went close to describing the ratepayer’s actions as illegal and potentially dangerous. “It appears the additional works have been undertaken on [the] council road reserve and without permission of council,” the nameless executive wrote. “The proximity of the additional works to the kerbside wall constructed by council adjacent the kerb places loads on that wall beyond those recommended on the manufacturers design notes and may lead to failure of the wall constructed by council.”
Cr Belcher said the ratepayer had done a professional job, matching the council work to such an extent that the council was now receiving credit. “When you drive past this property now, council gets a pat on the back for doing such a wonderful job,” he said. “A full week’s work went into it … he’s just seeking to get the [materials] cost back which was $1400.”
Cr Julie Triffett said she had struggled with the proposal for a little while. “Trevor Tce looks great, and the property owners did have to wait a long time to get it, and its $1500,” she said, before going on to draw attention to the management comments about additional work being at the property owners’ expense. “I’d like to know what changed, between the time that the consultation was undertaken, and now, and if this [motion] is supported, what happens… what are the ramifications for the council in the long term.  What if the wall, that the property owner has put in, fails. Who is responsible for that?”
Responding to deputy mayor Ben Shaw’s invitation to address Cr Triffett’s remarks, infrastructure manager Blackwell said the affected residents in Trevor Tce had been consulted and shown plans and documents relating to the scope of work and the option for additional work at their own cost. Mr Blackwell said he could see that some people in the public gallery were disagreeing with him but he could verify that those actions had taken place. “That conversation was happily accepted,” he said.
Cr Frank Pearce said he could not see why the council would want to pay the additional costs because a resident had decided to do something extra. “I think it would create some considerable precedent if other people start doing works on council property and putting in claims to council,” he said.
Cr Lathey said he had inspected the retaining wall and the householder had done an excellent job. He noted this was right on the edge of the council’s boundary. “If it hadn’t been done there would have been about a metre and half of no-man’s land there, before the council’s wall.” Cr Lathey said the householder had clearly believed that the council wasn’t going to fill the gap so he had done it himself. “I’m of the opinion that the council ought to pay him the costs which he shows receipts of to the amount of nearly $1500,” he said.
Cr James Graham said he was concerned about the reference to “shortcuts” saving $50,000 on the Trevor Tce project and he wondered about the implications. However, he did not feel that the council was indebted to the resident who carried out the extra work.  “It’s an emotional one and in my heart of hearts I don’t feel that we asked for that work to be done and I don’t feel, personally, that we as a council are indebted for that.”
Cr Shaw then invited Cr Anne Salt to speak, as she was the only councillor who had not yet done so. “I would take the advice of the planner,” Cr Salt said, interrupted by Mr Blackwell who replied “sorry?” as Cr Salt continued “…or your position, whatever it is.”
“Looking at the management comments, and following on from what Cr Pearce said, if there was an agreement in place with the council and the property owner has gone outside that, then I don’t see that the council would be responsible for reimbursement,” Cr Salt said.
Closing the debate, Cr Belcher thanked councillors for their comments. He advised that he had visited and photographed the work at Trevor Tce once it had been certified as completed, and noticed at least one property had a steep drop over a bank to the retaining wall below, which was quite dangerous, leading to the property owner taking the necessary steps to rectify it.
When put to the vote, the motion to reimburse the ratepayer was defeated 4-3. Crs Belcher, Shaw and Lathey were in favour of the proposal, and Crs Pearce, Graham, Triffett and Salt were opposed.  

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