A CONTENTIOUS marketing levy has been opened up to public debate following a council vote last night, with Warrnambool’s business community already debating its merit.
Councillors gave majority backing to publicise the Commerce Warrnambool levy proposal, which would add between $100 and $6000 a year to each business on rates notices.
The cash generated would be used for city-wide promotion and marketing.
More than 180 people attended last night’s Warrnambool City Council meeting, with several attendees vocally expressing their opposition to the levy, which has been mooted for the past four months.
Councillors voted 3-2 in support of promulgating the concept for public response, with councillors Rob Askew and Peter Hulin excusing themselves from the vote due to a declared conflict of interest.
Both councillors own and operate businesses in the affected area.
Warrnambool mayor Michael Neoh said last night’s decision neither endorsed nor opposed the marketing levy but simply opened up the Business Improvement District Program for public comment.
“It’s still up to council to make a final decision on (the levy), this is about considering all points of view on the matter,” Cr Neoh said.
“The process now is a sort of litmus test to see what the feeling of the business community is on the proposal.”
Commerce Warrnambool president Tony Herbert said the levy was an investment for the collective gain of all city businesses.
“(Last night) was a step forward and it now comes down to whether we as a business community want a chamber of commerce and how we want to fund it,” Mr Herbert said.
“Warrnambool is the largest city of its size not to have a proper chamber of commerce, with the capacity to properly market ourselves.
“I want to talk to businesses about their concerns. The rate is not going to be palatable to everybody, but we need to discuss all the issues.”
Cr Brian Kelson was an outspoken opponent of the levy last night, engaging the council’s chief executive Bruce Anson in a series of questions about the levy’s alleged ramifications.
“(The levy) is contradictory and lacking in substance,” he said. “Commerce Warrnambool itself is not a bad idea, but an added tax on business is a disgrace.
“There’s a huge gap between what retail pays and what a huge business like Fonterra or Midfield Meats pays.”
Cr Kylie Gaston also expressed misgivings about the levy but said last night’s decision was about engaging community discussion and not the end of the matter.
“As an ex-Liebig Street trader myself, I understand the stresses of a running a business and how extra costs can cause difficulties,” she said.
No set date was given on when city councillors would make a final vote on the levy, since the opportunity remains for majority business opposition to the proposal.