Byron Council has been forced to shelve its plans for an upgrade to the Mullumbimby swimming pool and the reactivation of the Byron rail line owing to the financial impact of COVID-19.
The agenda to last week’s Council meeting revealed that there is a projected budget deficit of $1.353 million for the 2020/2021 financial year, stemming directly from the loss of revenue caused by the pandemic.
As a consequence, Council has been forced to reduce spending by cutting back on a number of activities.
‘We didn’t make this decision lightly,’ Council’s general manager Mark Arnold said of the decision to cut a study exploring the feasibility of the Mullumbimby pool upgrade.
‘We looked for every possible opportunity to include this, which would have cost about $50,000, in the budget. But it would mean going into deficit.’
The pool upgrade, which has widespread support among locals in the northern part of the Shire, was to include solar heating, so that it could remain open all year round.
There was also to have been a disability access ramp, a ‘splash down’ children’s play pool and a rehabilitation pool.
‘We have obviously hit a very difficult financial situation and it’s one of those situations through COVID-19 where we see ourselves unable to fund some of the projects we’re passionate about and invested in, and that we look at our priorities,’ Greens deputy Mayor Sarah Ndiaye said.
The other project to be shelved was a study into options for reactivating some or all of the old abandoned rail line between Byron and Mullumbimby.
Cr Basil Cameron, a long-time advocate of the rail activation plan as a way of addressing the Shire’s transport woes, said the project remained a priority.
‘It’s absolutely vital that we lead in that process [of activation],’ Cr Cameron said.
‘I acknowledge that it’s been left out of the budget, and I’m hoping we can bring that back into the budget sooner rather than later.’
It is the Council’s intent to recover the budget shortfall during the course of the 2020/2021 financial year, as ‘public health order restrictions continue to ease and economic activity starts to recover’.
However, it is far from certain that this will be possible.