Opposition grows to business levy plan

Commerce Warrnambool chairman Tony Herbert.

Commerce Warrnambool chairman Tony Herbert.

A BUSINESS-ONLY ballot is likely to be held by the city council over a controversial levy proposal aimed at better promoting Warrnambool enterprise.

Commerce Warrnambool has been seeking support for its Business Improvement District Program since January, which would add between $100 and $6000 a year to each business on rates notices.

But opposition to the program has risen in the commercial sector during the past fortnight with several retailers telling The Standard they feel the program would be an unnecessary impost.

Warrnambool mayor Michael Neoh said he believed a ballot involving all potential businesses impacted by the program would be the fairest way of handling the issue.

“What we want to do is make it as easy as possible for the business community to either support or object to the Commerce Warrnambool program,” Cr Neoh said. “The best way forward is having a ballot, a bit like a mini referendum. 

“If 51 per cent of people involved object to the levy, then the city council wouldn’t proceed.”

Cr Brian Kelson said there was widespread opposition towards the levy from a range of business owners.

He said the Commerce Warrnambool proposal of a new marketing and promotional initiative would cause unnecessary duplication of services already provided for by the city council.

“Businesses have costs piling up all over the place — they don’t want another one,” Cr Kelson said.

“You only have to head down Liebig Street or Fairy Street to see that businesses already have staffing costs, electricity costs, rate increases above the CPI (consumer price index).”

Warrnambool Holiday Park owner Steve Moore said he initially supported the proposal but changed his mind due to the expense involved. “When you look at it more closely, it’ll be an expensive double-up on the services that council already provides,” he said.

“You also have the Great Ocean Road group, Shipwreck Coast Marketing, Tourism Victoria — they all provide promotion in one way or another.” 

Commerce Warrnambool spokesman Tony Herbert said last week that hundreds of support forms had been signed by operators in the hospitality, accommodation, retail and industrial sectors.

Mr Herbert said only a united approach could bankroll large-scale marketing campaigns for the city and urged business operators to think long-term.

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