THOUSANDS of people visited Swan Hill last year because of a council levy — at least according to the city’s marketing group.
As Commerce Warrnambool looks to prove the merits of charging businesses for a marketing strategy, it appears to have found one success story to the north.
Swan Hill Incorporated is backed by business dollars and has been for more than 12 years.
“Our job is to get people to Swan Hill and as of September last year, the figures showed there were 840,000 people — that was 37 per cent up on the previous year,” chairman Murray Ray told The Standard.
The Swan Hill levy is serving as the model put forward by Commerce Warrnambool.
The Swan Hill Rural City Council recently rubber-stamped the levy for another five years, although not without a few objections from businesses.
“It’s just been reinstated for a further five years,” Mr Ray said. Advertising has been the main weapon of the group.
“We put on morning show ads and we advertised around Ballarat and Bendigo,” he said.
The group also had a sign on Melbourne’s Tullamarine freeway.
Mr Ray has already been to the south-west to advise business leaders on how to pitch the levy collection ahead of a business ballot.
About 755 retailers, traders and businesses pay anywhere from $50 up to $6000 — with the highest figure collected in only a few cases.
“It’s based on the capital improved value of the property,” the chairman said.
“Across the board it averages to about $449 a year.”
But not everyone in Swan Hill is happy with the levy.
Comfort Inn Campbell operator Graeme Girdlestone said moteliers were especially hard hit by the levy, locally referred to as a special rate.
“I’m probably paying around $3000 a year, that’s a lot of extra rooms I’d have to sell to recoup that payment,” Mr Girdlestone said.
He said the rate should also apply to residential ratepayers while council should kick in more funds for greater effect.
“They (council) should have to budget for it,” he said.
“I support the idea in principle ... the concept has got a lot of value but they need to raise more money and more fairly.” He said businesses operating from home avoided paying the special rate.