A $10 million renovation announcement for a government building in the centre of Katherine has given rise to a groundswell of opinion the funds could be better spent elsewhere.
The NT Government yesterday announced it had secured an "extensive refurbishment and refit" of the Katherine Government Centre from the building owner, in return for a renewed 15-year lease.
More than $10 million will be spent revamping the offices within the building and improving access to health clinics.
But in the face of ageing, potholed roads, a chronic shortage of skilled professionals like teachers and doctors, one of the worst homelessness rates in the country, and aged care facilities left in disrepair, residents have rebuked the decision.
On social media overnight Katherine resident expressed disappointment over the move to renovate a "structurally sound" building.
"I'm sorry, but $10M worth of renovations for a 15 year lease seems a bit of a rip off, the property owners definitely get the better end of that deal," one person commented.
"Good heavens. What for? It looks structurally OK and half empty of people most of the time. Better ways to spend the money surely," was another.
Remarks pointed to myriad issues in Katherine - such as needing an aged care facility closer to the town centre - which needed attention ahead of the government centre.
"Could of built a brand new one for half that price," one person said.
Chamber of Commerce's Katherine regional manager Colin Abbott said following a NT Government announcement last year of just $200,000 for Katherine High School - in urgent need of upgrading according to the NT Council of Government School Organisations - the multi-million dollar revamp was "hard to reconcile".
"$10 million would go a long way to supporting the good work being done by the Katherine region Education Department, improving the education system, and not just in Katherine but also the whole region. Attracting and retaining quality staff with incentives, rather than taking them away is critical, as is the development of modern infrastructure to support program delivery. The $200,000 allocation hardly supports this," he said.
"$10 million would allow for improvements to aged care and other social services, provision of reliable medical services, as well as allowing projects like the agribusiness and logistics hub to be expedited.
"Not knowing specifically what work is needed to be done, it's really hard to say that the money is being unreasonably spent.
"It may be absolutely appropriate and I can only hope that much of it stays in Katherine. Without full costing details I can only look at my key priority, Katherine businesses, and look at what $10 million could do."
Mr Abbott said the government decision to cut $500,000 from the teacher rental subsidy scheme in 2019 was incomprehensible when it appears to be spending $10 million on a building facelift.
"I would like to see similar allocation of funds to assist business in attracting quality staff to support business growth and encourage private investment to the region," he said.
"That's where it is really hard to reconcile expenditure like that.
"What the businesses need in order to survive are customers or clients, and good staff.
"There is just not enough bodies in town in order to take on a lot of the roles businesses are desperate to fill, particularly skilled roles, so we need workers from other areas.
"For this to happen we need to provide the basics including accommodation, at an extreme low, access to medical services, and a great education system as a starting point. $10 million dollars would go a long way to achieving this."
The NT Government has been contacted for further comment.
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