Business call to cut rates

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Times are tough on Margaret River's main street.
Camera IconTimes are tough on Margaret River's main street. Credit: Warren Hately Picture:

Ongoing business woes are driving commercial property owners, landlords and business operators to demand the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River provides significant rates relief this year.

Since the Times reported last month the council would consider a freeze in rates increases, no discounts for commercial ratepayers, but a possible hardship fund, the Margaret River business sector has increased pressure for more action.

Stayz Margaret River landlord and construction boss Gary Wightman now called on the Shire to waive rates for at least four months to acknowledge damage done to the local economy by COVID-19.

Mr Wightman also believed the Shire should undertake significant staff cuts of up to 50 per cent and streamline and rationalise some non-essential services while the economic crisis played out.

“We need to look at a serious shrinkback,” he told the Times.

“We don’t have the industry or development to support this level of (local) government.

“All commercial rates need to be addressed severely, and that means the main street and other accommodation providers affected. We need to encourage people to invest and spend in town.”

His comments come after business partner and ex-councillor Neville Veitch last week asked councillors to consider setting up to $1.5 million aside from cash reserves to offer immediate rates relief. The Registered Accommodation Providers Margaret River Region lobby group also called for a six-months rates waiver.

With the budget process still under way, Shire president Ian Earl previously ruled out a flat rates waiving, which would mean job cuts.

But this week he said more briefings were planned “as we grapple with a quickly-changing environment”.

About $1.5 million of the Shire’s new community care fund remained unallocated and could be considered for hardship cases, he said. Cr Earl has stressed ratepayers in difficulty were encouraged to discuss relief with officers.

“If it is not enough, then we will look to use more from reserves,” he said. “We understand the difficulty that so many of our community are in at this stage and will do all we can to help and support them.”

Other traders who asked not to be named were critical of the Shire waiving some rents for its own tenants, without offering a commitment on rates relief.

Some operators believed the rents waiver was a good move — but the wider community needed similar support.

Ex-councillor and accountant Brian Middleton said many businesses were facing “severe cash-flow issues”.

“I am also well aware of the demands on the council’s budget, especially with the added cost of the measures they are taking to stimulate our economy,” he said.

“I believe there is a middle road whereby council can offer concessions for business owners.”

He said long-term interest-free payment plans might be warranted.

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