COVID stimulus approved

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times

Shire of Augusta-Margaret River councillors have approved hardship and local economic stimulus measures to help ratepayers and commercial tenants affected by the pandemic.

The decision was delayed until last week’s meeting as elected members tweaked the support packages to include commercial tenants who indirectly paid rates as leaseholders.

The decision was further support to a freeze on ratings increases for this financial year, passed this month with the Shire’s budget.

Local businesses and accommodation providers previously sought rates waivers for the 2020-21 financial year.

Ratepayers seeking help would need to provide specific evidence to support applications, according to the report.

Criteria for eligibility included recent underemployment or job losses, and the effects of illness from COVID-19, including those forced to act as carers during the pandemic.

Additional Shire support was included in twin Sustainable Economy and Building Better Communities grants programs to be backed by the Community Care Fund established in March.

About $1.5 million of the emergency funding remained.

The Sustainable Economy grants were designed to “support sustainable local employment and business success to improve shire-based business’ ability to withstand ongoing economic disruption resulting from unplanned and/or major ‘shocks’.”

Criteria included new or improved services offering jobs and using local suppliers with “positive social or environmental” goals tying in to the Shire’s community strategic plan. Applicants would match funds or seek extra external funding.

The Building Better Communities grants would help projects “meeting the needs of the community and building capacity to support improved self-sufficiency from external influences over time”.

Businesses, community groups and not-for-profits could apply for the money, with fund-matching also encouraged.

Possible projects included services responding to community needs and which address sustainability and climate change.

Cr Naomi Godden noted the hardship funding was amended to include business operators who did not directly classify as ratepayers.

“COVID-19 has been a challenge for many people and we are hoping the process might alleviate some of the pressures on community members,” she said.

The Shire also extended its community development and events grant programs, with added funding making $150,000 available this financial year.

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