Gympie Mayor Glen Hartwig said he is “unable to comment” on whether concerns about past handling of the council’s environmental grants distribution he called “unlawful” at last week’s meeting have been referred to outside bodies for investigation.
Gympie Mayor Glen Hartwig said he is “unable to comment” on whether concerns about past handling of the council’s environmental grants distribution he called “unlawful” at last week’s meeting have been referred to outside bodies for investigation.

More questions raised over who approved council green grants

Gympies council’s “messy” environment grant process has turned murkier, with new questions about blown out budget allocations and who signed off on them.

The questions come following Mayor Glen Hartwig’s claim some of the council’s past practices were “unlawful”, a comment which drew heavy criticism on social media during debate over this year’s grant allocation.

Following the meeting, Mr Hartwig said he was “unable to comment” on whether these concerns had been raised with other statutory bodies.

Mr Hartwig’s comments came after it was revealed by staff that one specific funding stream - the Wildlife Carers Grant - had been distributed in the past two years without the program, or the awarded grants, ever being endorsed by councillors.

New questions have arisen over what processes were followed in regard to how environment grants were awarded and who signed off on spending above the allocated budget.
New questions have arisen over what processes were followed in regard to how environment grants were awarded and who signed off on spending above the allocated budget.

The staff report to the council said the program was created “following direction from the then mayor and director of Planning and Development”.

But the questions do not stop there, with new ones raised about who signed off on awarding more money than had been allocated.

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Despite advertising in 2018 it had allocated $50,000 to the Wildlife Carers program, the council handed out more than $68,000 in funding, noting at the time “all (six approved recipients) were successful in gaining their desired funding”.

This $18,000 increase was not brought before councillors at a public meeting. Similarly, a $4000 increase above the $30,000 allocated the following year was never endorsed by councillors.

Although the council said it allocated $50,000 in Wildlife Carers Grants in 2019, it ultimately awarded more than $68,000 to groups in the round.
Although the council said it allocated $50,000 in Wildlife Carers Grants in 2019, it ultimately awarded more than $68,000 to groups in the round.

Similar questions exist over the handling of the council’s Environmental Grant Levy.

While the council’s policy and strategy stipulates 20 per cent of the grant be set aside each year (about $190,000) in 2019 more than $390,000 was awarded. The February edition of the council’s Round-Up magazine said “ “this year, due to the high calibre of projects applied for, council has allocated nearly 40 per cent of the levy income to these groups”.

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A search of the council’s minutes show the environmental grants have not been brought to councillors for endorsement since June 2015, when they were discussed behind closed doors.

“Following on from an ongoing review, we could find no evidence that the Environmental Levy, including grant allocations, were taken to council for endorsement,” CEO Shane Gray said.

“Decisions regarding the grant allocations from the Environmental Levy were a decision of staff and not council.

Gympie council’s environment policy and strategy outline between 17-20 per cent of a year’s levy is to be set aside for these grants; it announced in the February 2019 Round-Up it ultimately handed out about 40 per cent instead due to the “high calibre of projects applied for”.
Gympie council’s environment policy and strategy outline between 17-20 per cent of a year’s levy is to be set aside for these grants; it announced in the February 2019 Round-Up it ultimately handed out about 40 per cent instead due to the “high calibre of projects applied for”.

“This is not the correct process, as grant allocations must be taken to council for endorsement.”

Questions have also been raised about the council’s public reporting of the grants.

The council has confirmed environmental grants were awarded in the 2017-18 financial year, but there is no mention of them, the recipients, or how much was awarded in that year’s annual report, despite State legislation requiring all such information be disclosed.

“We are unsure why this was not included in the annual report,” Mr Gray said.

Asked last week whether the council had raised these issues with other bodies, Mr Gray said “where we identify issues they will be referred”.

Gympie Times

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