Horsham council will begin drawing detailed designs of upgrades for the northern bank of the Wimmera River, depending on the result of Monday night's meeting.
It comes as Horsham Rural Ratepayers and Residents has questioned the findings of a report on the consultation council conducted on the project - known as Wimmera Riverfront Activation Project - in August.
It has also expressed concerns the public will not receive adequate opportunity to influence the plans going forward.
Councillors will consider the engagement report along with the final concept plan for the activation project.
This includes a site for a cafe, improved toilets and barbecue and picnic facilities, wider walking and bike tracks, improvements to Horsham Angling Club and a Regional Water Play Park.
The riverfront activation is one of seven stages of the City to River masterplan, a 20-year vision for Horsham CBD, which the council endorsed with amendments at its November meeting in 2019.
A council spokesman told the Mail-Times "If endorsed by council, the first phase of the (riverfront activation) project will be implemented, the steps being, the development of detailed construction drawings for tender, awarding of the tender and construction".
He said this construction was planned to start in early 2021.
"The first phase is being funded through a Federal Government Grant of $1.65 million, a State Government grant of $500,000 and council contribution of $850,000 ($3 million altogether)," he said.
The HRRR group has previously said it did not want the plan to come before the September 21 meeting - council's last before the election period begins - because the meeting was for "urgent business" only.
President Terry O'Donnell said he expected the council to endorse moving to the next step.
He called the engagement report - which found 81% of respondents believed the riverfront would be more inviting after the plans were implemented - a "ticking the box" exercise.
"This report is really just to endorse the fact they've had considerable community input, but they have only had 70 submissions," he said. "The water play park was only endorsed by 25 people as a group project, out of a population of close to 20,000.
"(The council) keeps talking about the original masterplan which is why they keep pushing ahead with it, and my biggest fear is that by approving a concept plan, we are not approving the final product.
"We know from the water play park, they won't put those component projects out to the public, because they already went for more schematic designs on the water play park. They didn't go to the public to say 'this is what will be in the water play park', they just said 'we want money for the water play park'."
The council applied to Sport and Recreation Victoria for funding to build the water park, but was rejected in August.
Mr O'Donnell said: "If the council tweaks or modifies this concept plan, how certain can we be the council will go back to the public with it? There is only the suggestion that if there are major changes, it's advisable they go back to the public."
The council's Community Wellbeing Director Kevin O'Brien said it would inform the community "via media releases,".
"Stakeholders will be engaged directly where the works will impact the area. As te contracors are awarded works and timelines are agreed, this will be communicated via media links and e-mail updates," he said.
Mayor Mark Radford said the new council would decide on any further allocations of ratepayers' money to the riverfront project.
"There are no contracts being issued on Monday night. Once the work goes to detailed design, it will go out to tender then contracts are called. Anything over $250,000 will all go through the (new) council," he said.
"The community reference group will be part of the more detailed designs."
The next council will have at least three new members, as Cr Radford, Cr David Grimble and Cr Josh Koenig have said they will not be contesting next month's Local Government Elections.
What the engagement report says
Many respondents told the council to retain the natural features of the region and to Provide opportunities to tell our local indigenous stories
Of the 70 formal feedback submissions received, eight voiced concerns relating to the cost of the project, possible impact on rates and COVID-19.
Seven responses discussed issues around parking to be further considered, and eleven responses concerned specific elements of the design that council says have been provided to the landscape architect.
It said the water play park, BBQ seating and amenities upgrades and the cafe were the three most popular ideas with the community in the draft concept plan.
"Two comments requested that the construction of the Cafe be moved forward to the first stage," the report read.
The council said it met its engagement objectives by establishing the "transparent and empowered" community reference group, consulting with user groups, and dropping information into letterboxes of residents in the project area, among other measures.
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