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June 25, 2022

Ballina Council debates waiving Seagulls debt

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Ballina Seagulls entrance. Photo David Lowe.

The matter of over $15,000 owing to Ballina Shire Council by the Ballina Seagulls Rugby League for unpaid rates was discussed at council’s last meeting.

Cr Phillip Meehan suggested 50% of the debt could be waived due to COVID-related hardship, saying the club had not raised enough from recent poker machine sales to recover from its financial crisis.

Cr Ben Smith said he had no issues with the club, but believed there was inadequate transparency about its financial situation. ‘Normally you have to demonstrate hardship,’ he said. ‘The club hasn’t done that.’

Cr Keith Williams said it wasn’t a hardship application, but about the cost of recovering debt from an entity that was being wound up, with a new volunteer-based organisation in the process of taking over the running of the club. ‘This is not an easy job, and it’s being done by volunteers working in the best interests of the community,’ he said.

Club Lennox supported when it was a ‘basket case’

Cr Keith Williams. Photo David Lowe.

Cr Williams pointed out that Club Lennox had been supported when it was going through financial difficulties, and such circumstances needed to be looked at case by case.

He also pointed out the special importance of the Seagulls to Ballina’s Aboriginal community. ‘Those people will lose, disproportionately,’ he said. ‘This is a community organisation that builds community and brings people together.’

Cr Williams said the 50% offer would mean there would be a chance to come to a settlement, as opposed to the existing plan of writing off only $92 interest on the debt.

‘I don’t think we should just leave this club to the wolves,’ he said.

Cr Nathan Willis said there was an opportunity for the club to enter into a payment plan, and that it might end up being a 100% write-off for council. ‘We shouldn’t pre-judge it,’ he said, arguing for the previous resolution of the finance committee to be maintained.

Exceptional job

Ballina Deputy Mayor Sharon Cadwallader. Photo David Lowe.

Cr Sharon Cadwallader said she didn’t know the personal ins and outs of the club, ‘but I do know they do an exceptional job in the community.

‘I see this as an extension of our community donations, albeit via a different process,’ she said. ‘This would be a negotiation to meet them halfway, give them an incentive to find what’s owing.’

Mayor David Wright said he ‘loved the club’ and was open to writing the whole debt off or 50%, but the club needed to provide bank statements. ‘I just want to know there’s no money there,’ he said.

Cr Jeff Johnson said he supported the 50% idea, but wondered why proper information had not been provided, so that a 100% write-off could be considered now, rather than having the debate again later.

Half knowledgeable people and half footballers

Cr Steve McCarthy said it should be up to Council GM Paul Hickey to assess the financial situation. ‘COVID has upset them, They have seven games a year they need to make money out of. They’re trying their hardest and their new committee is half knowledgeable people and half footballers,’ he said.

The Ballina Seagulls sign has seen better days. Photo David Lowe.

As debate returned to the state of the club’s books, Cr Williams said the 2019 books showed it was ‘not a pretty picture. They weren’t able to trade through COVID. Do you think they would be better off this year than in 2019?’

He said at least half the debt should be written off with negotiations after that.

In the end, council voted unanimously to write off interest charges and authorise the GM to provide the club with the opportunity to enter into a suitable payment plan, including possible debt write-off.

Cr Sharon Parry was an apology for the meeting.

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