Port Stephens Council to consider waiving rent for volunteer koala care organisation at One Mile holiday park

WAITING: Once built the koala hospital and tourism centre will be financial self-sustaining. At present, Port Stephens Koalas is struggling.
WAITING: Once built the koala hospital and tourism centre will be financial self-sustaining. At present, Port Stephens Koalas is struggling.

Port Stephens Council will consider giving Port Stephens Koalas a rent holiday at the holiday park Treescape.

The rescue and care organisation rents a cabin at Treescape for its one and only paid staff member – a hospital co-ordinator –  where it plans to build a hospital and tourism facility. 

Port Stephens Koalas had expected to be fully operational in the first half of 2018 with tourists to pay the overheads, which includes digs for the onsite coordinator – a legislative requirement for keeping koalas onsite.

The state government has been approached for support to cover some of the estimated $3 million cost and while PSK remains hopeful it’s a waiting game.

“Despite everyone’s best efforts we’re still a year away from commissioning and building a hospital, even if everything goes to plan,” PSK secretary Ron Land said.

“We really thought we would be open and operating in the first half of this year, when we hired a hospital coordinator to help get everything in place.

“Despite council staff working tirelessly we’re in a real predicament now.”

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Under delegated authority the council staff has already applied a discount to the rent PSK pays for its hospital coordinator to live on-site in a cabin. Mr Land, who addressed councillors during public access on Tuesday night, said it was too costly for the volunteer organisation to pay $18,200 a year.

“We’re asking that council gives us a rent holiday for the rest of this year until we can build the hospital and start earning an income,” he said.

Once built the centre is expected to be an income generator for the holiday park but the deputy mayor Chris Doohan noted that the council had already been quite generous by part funding a four-wheel-drive rescue vehicle, among other measures. He asked the council’s group manager of corporate services Carmel Foster for some guidance on the council’s financial capacity to help further.

Ms Forster said the council had contributed $180,000 to cover the development application costs. 

She said the ability for the council to further discount the rent was complicated since Treescape only earned $50,000 in the past year.

“We are subsidising the [PSK] facility as it is but it does impact on the budget,” Ms Foster said. 

Councillor John Nell lodged a notice of motion from the floor to have the matter discussed at the next council meeting. Crs Sarah Smith, Glen Dunkley and Jaimie Abbott witnessed the application.

“I think most of us if not all are of the opinion that they need some help,” Cr Nell said after the meeting.

“Whether they get help for the full amount or a part of it, only time will tell, but putting it on the agenda allows us to consider it.”

The mayor Ryan Palmer said Mr Land’s words had moved the councillors.

“The emotional response to Ron’s presentation on their plight was clear,” he said.

A report will be prepared for the matter to be discussed at the next council meeting on February 27.