Mayor to meet with gliding club reps

September 09, 2017

Benalla Rural City Council Mayor Don Firth is seeking a sit-down — that could quickly become a showdown — with the Benalla Gliding Club of Victoria before it flies the coop.

The club is threatening to pack up its internationally-rated operation and move to a new airport after the council jacked its hangar rentals 566 per cent in one year — from 75 cents per square metre to $5.

Cr Firth said he would meet with club members to discuss its future and try to find a compromise.

But even before the talks begin he has confirmed a change in the new fees is unlikely.

He will have talks with club president John Switala and member Terry Cubley this week to discuss their concerns.

‘‘It’s important to me the gliding club stays in Benalla, but it’s more important that we make the best decision for the whole of Benalla,’’ Cr Firth said.

He will be starting from somewhere well behind the eight ball with his opening salvo about endorsing the new fees, but is determined to discuss some of the club’s concerns.

However, Mr Switala has already said that is not good enough and the council should be looking to reconcile with the club.

‘‘We had a meeting with (member for Euroa) Steph Ryan last week and had an economist come in with us,’’ Mr Switala said.

‘‘He worked out the club injects about $12 million into the Benalla community every year.

‘‘We said (to Ms Ryan) what we’d like her to do is attempt to reopen negotiations with council, otherwise it would get ugly.

‘‘But that’s what we’d like to do, we’re not just going to let it go.’’

Ms Ryan said she would be speaking to the council on the club’s behalf in the near future.

Mr Switala said he disagreed with figures for the $12 million airport master plan the council was in the process of implementing.

‘‘Extending the runway is expensive and the gliding club doesn’t even use it,’’ Mr Switala said.

‘‘The plan is flawed, and is asking for too much and for things that are not needed.

‘‘I agree not all the costs should be shouldered by the ratepayers, but charging the gliding club for things we don’t even use isn’t really fair.’’

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