Moyne Shire Council has proposed to keep paying Port Fairy's Belfast Aquatics $10,000 per month indefinitely as the leisure centre fights six charges over the death of an eight-year-old boy in 2021.
Councillors will vote on the proposal at the monthly council meeting on September 26.
The council has been covering Belfast Aquatics' hugely inflated insurance premiums since the centre's previous insurer refused to renew its policy in early 2022, paying nearly $92,000 for coverage until April 2023, and $10,000 per month since then. Council officers said the monthly payments should continue at least until the court case has ended.
The council also pays Belfast Aquatics $200,000 each year to defray its other costs. Since March 2022 the council has also spent up to $20,000 to fix deficient governance documentation, and commissioned a six-month independent investigation into how the centre was run, at an additional cost of $46,310.
A condition of the ongoing $10,000 payments since April was a further investigation by council chief executive officer Brett Davis into the best future management model for the centre. Councillors approved the payments and second investigation on April 26 but less than two weeks later, on May 5, WorkSafe announced it was charging the pool over the 2021 drowning of eight-year-old Cooper Onyett.
On May 15 the council said Mr Davis' investigation would proceed despite the legal action, but it was ultimately called off. A spokesperson said the council had initially believed it would be possible to continue the investigation, but lawyers and consultants advised against it.
Council officers said several of the questions Mr Davis would have to grapple with in the investigation would be difficult or impossible to resolve until the court case was over.
"Whilst it is considered that there is no issue with transitioning the assets and business even while the Port Fairy Community Pool Management Group Inc. is pending a court decision, consideration must be given to the diminished likelihood of attracting potential interest for future management options in this environment," council officers said.
"It is considered that the appointment of a 'skills-based board' would not necessarily resolve difficulties in extending the public liability insurance since it would depend on the preferences of an individual insurer and the challenges of availability and ongoing sustainability of relevant persons for a management board.
"This proposition is yet to be tested given the emerging legal proceedings."
The officers said the best course of action was to postpone the investigation indefinitely, until the court case was finished, and continue making the $10,000 monthly payments to Belfast Aquatics for the same period. The $25,000 budgeted for the investigation will remain aside until required.
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