HORSHAM Rural City councillors have pledged to work with Horsham Agricultural Society to redevelop the showgrounds area, after turning down a request for more than $1 million.
The council will also write to Member for Mallee Anne Webster, drawing attention to the perceived shortcomings of the federal government's Regional Agricultural Show Development Grants Program.
The agricultural society had been considering making a $500,000 funding application to the program, to finance a project to replace the ladies pavilion on the western side of the showgrounds with a new multi-purpose community facility.
A report shown to councillors said the proposed new building included an exhibition space which could double as a function room, a meeting room, kitchen, storeroom and possibly public toilets.
The report noted the total project budget is $1,624,700, meaning the council contribution the society sought to fully fund the project was more than $1 million.
At the special meeting on Monday, councillors John Robinson and Pam Clarke criticised the plan's perceived short notice. The program opened on October 4 and closes on Friday.
Cr Clarke called the program's management "extremely disappointing".
"The federal government should have managed this better so that small agricultural societies had an ability to do some projects which are desperately needed," she said.
"We wouldn't do it justice by rushing it through now. I'm hoping we can get something happening and we can work on something with the society and other user groups desperate to have somewhere they can call their own."
Following councillors voting in favor of not committing the money, Councillor David Grimble moved a motion that council write to Dr Webster highlighting the challenges for agricultural societies in meeting the funding criteria. The motion passed unanimously.
"The showgrounds precinct is suitable for redevelopment. It has a lot of aging infrastructure, so what they're proposing has a lot of merit," he said. "I think we should express our desire to the federal government to look at how they might fund that opportunity at another time."
Mayor Mark Radford noted the number of activities on the site had increased in recent years.
Society secretary Andrea Cross and president Zack Currie said they were not surprised by the council's decision, and agreed the government program did not give them adequate time to prepare a fully-formed application.
Mrs Cross said: "We started drawing the plans up in early October. You're talking about a building of that magnitude, to get everything organised in that amount of time is nigh on impossible.
"While we lived in hope, the reality is we do need to have more planning. Having consultations with the potential other user groups would have been a great big plus if we'd done it six or seven months ago, but we weren't ready at that stage and neither was council."
Mrs Cross said the society hoped to get other community groups to hire their venue for events.
Mr Currie said: "Hopefully the letter to the local member will spark some funding opportunities down the track.
"It's definitely started the ball rolling in a conversation that will keep on being had in the future. I'm extremely pleased with council's ongoing support of what we're trying to achieve."
While councillors voted in favor of giving the society a $30,000 interest free loan to support a small grant application under the same program to enhance lighting and power supply.
Mrs Cross said: "That's going to be really important for our user groups and improve our events out of sight."
The council's under-development 20-year vision for Horsham - the draft City to River masterplan includes the suggestion of a "tourism/hospitality" site at the showgrounds. Mrs Cross said the society was generally in favor of this, but that the plans needed to take into account the flood risk of the area.
Councillors also voted to support the Natimuk Agricultural and Pastoral Society with an interest-free loan of up to $80,000 for up to five years.
The society and committee of management have a $625,000 plan for the showground to upgrade its pavillion, and develop "a digital attraction to showcase local farming and Natimuk attractions".
A letter to council signed by the two organisations' presidents Rob Rogers and Travis Maybery says this digital attraction could be an animation.
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