Contradictions in pet lodge purchase Cattle escape during burglary
There is no reference to an “independent entity” being engaged by Baw Baw Shire or to it recommending council buy the former Utopia Pet Lodge at Longwarry North in council’s official records dating back to 2016.
At a meeting with The Gazette last week Mayor Joe Gauci (he has been mayor since late 2015) stated the August 10, 2016, decision to buy the pet lodge property and co-locate a new municipal animal pound on the five-acre site was made “in good faith” and based on a report and valuation by an “independent entity”. However, council’s minutes of the August 10 meeting (page 6, agenda item 7.1 purchase of 61 Princes Highway, Longwarry North – Utopia Pet Lodge) make no references to any independent (external) report.
But the document does refer to a request that council officers undertake a due diligence assessment.
The Gazette has repeatedly and unsuccessfully queried since the decision and, usually in writing, whether a business case was prepared and due diligence report compiled in-house by council officers or by an external party such as a consultancy.
At the meeting last week that The Gazette had sought for a number of months it was stated that an “independent entity” prepared a valuation report to council that cannot be released publicly due to a “disclaimer” included by the entity.
But the council meeting minute only refers to council requesting on March 23, 2016, that “officers” undertake a due diligence assessment of the site and business known as Utopia Pet Lodge.
It went on to add that “having received due diligence reports officers reported to council at a confidential council meeting on Wednesday, June 22, 2016. At this meeting council delegated the chief executive officer to negotiate with the owners of the land for the purchase of the land and business”.
“Then at a confidential council meeting on Wednesday, July 27, 2016, officers reported on the commercial aspects of the proposals and as a result Council, having received the requested information, resolved to accept an offer of $1.2 million with settlement to take place on Wednesday, August 31, 2016”.
A further cost of $150,000 was indicated to establish co-located pound facilities on the site.
The chief executive officer at the time Helen Anstis, who announced her resignation the following January, was authorised, in consultation with the vendors, to “release details to the public that are of a non-commercial nature”.
“Therefore due diligence reports will remain commercial-in-confidence and will not be released to the public”.
As well as Cr Gauci last week’s meeting with The Gazette was attended by the shire’s chief executive officer Alison Leighton and executive manager communications and economic development Mark Kestigian, neither of whom were employed at the shire when the Utopia proposal was considered and accepted.
Baw Baw CIU detectives are investigating the burglary at the Buln Buln Rd property between March 29 and April 4.
The property has frontage to the Princes Fwy and Buln Buln Rd.
Detectives said offenders cut five strands of wire in two places on the two road frontages.
A John Deere all-terrain vehicle valued at $8000 was stolen from a locked shed after offenders cut a padlock.
An abandoned house and various sheds are located on the property as well as about 50 head of cattle.
Detectives said the victim was alerted when cattle escaped onto the freeway.
Baw Baw highway patrol police were called in to chase the cattle back onto the property.