Dungog Shire Council has resolved to transfer ownership of the old Clarence Town courthouse to the Clarence Clarence Town Progress Association, ending years of uncertainty over the site.
Mayor Tracy Norman described it as a “win-win situation” for the community, saving council $23,000 a year in maintenance of the heritage-listed building while ensuring it remains in community hands for future generations.
The old courthouse building dates back to 1869 and is regarded as a unique example of a Victorian Georgian style timber courthouse, with a Dutch gable roof which has had minimal alteration.
The Clarence Town and District Historical Museum Association currently uses the building as a museum.
The council’s valuer last year put a price of $289,000 on the Prince Street property.
“In making this decision, council has weighed up fiscal responsibility with community benefit and we have come up with a win-win situation,” said Cr Norman.
“Clarence Town’s heritage should be preserved and celebrated”.
There was robust debate on the issue at the council’s April 18 ordinary meeting when the majority of councillors supported a motion moved by Cr Steve Low and seconded by Cr John Connors, to transfer the ownership of the building to the Progress Association.
Cr Low’s motion included council seeking NSW Planning approval to rezone the land from community land to operational land and a covenant on the site for the building to be retained as a museum. He said neither the council nor the museum could continue to fund the ongoing maintenance of the building.
“The Progress Association is a strong, viable outfit with a proven track record,” said Cr Low.
Cr Riley said the council was in a “parlous situation” financially.
“We are asking for a 70 to 100 per cent rate increase over the next eight years and on the other hand are giving away a property at a conservative value of $300,000,” he said.
Cr Rayward said the council should be “ashamed” of giving away such an asset.
Cr John Connors raised the issue of the valuation of the site, questioning why anyone would pay that much for a property which had the burden of a heritage building requiring such maintenance.
He said it was “a saving to the community, not a gift.”
“This council is not in a strong financial position… if this council can save $23,000 a year, it should do it.”
Cr Greg Wall suggested the site was “unmarketable”.
Councillors Greg Riley, Digby Raward and Jan Lyon voted against the motion.