Mayor plays peacemaker over levy dispute

Warrnambool mayor Michael Neoh has brokered a meeting between opposing business groups over the controversial levy proposal.

Warrnambool mayor Michael Neoh has brokered a meeting between opposing business groups over the controversial levy proposal.

AFTER intense public bickering over a proposed new levy on Warrnambool business operators the two main protagonists will sit down at a table and try to reach common ground.

Mayor Michael Neoh has brokered a meeting between leaders of Commerce Warrnambool and the Warrnambool Traders Action Group next Thursday.

“It’s an opportunity to see if there’s middle ground in this issue and clear up the confusion,” Cr Neoh said.

“This will be a one-on-one meeting where each party can convey their views rather than play it out in the media.”

The issue which has captured public attention for weeks centres around a proposal by Commerce Warrnambool to impose a levy on all 1300 registered businesses in the municipality to fund administration of the representative group and boost promotion.

A proposed special charge scheme estimated to range from $300 to $5000 will be posted out by the city council next month. 

The number of official objections will determine if the council can then vote on enacting the charge. 

Commerce Warrnambool has been working on new strategy to better promote the city’s businesses and put forward the levy as a “fair” way to distribute contributions.

However, the newly-formed traders’ action group has waged a vigorous opposition campaign claiming business operators did not need another cost burden. 

Cr Neoh’s success in getting agreement by the opposing groups to meet follows a strong indication last week the traders group would not sit at the table.

“There were a lot of mixed messages in the community and as mayor I believed it was important for the sides to get together,” he said.

“Both groups have the best interests of the city at heart and it’s important to convey that message.” 

City chief executive Bruce Anson yesterday explained the charge scheme was being calculated based on percentage of property capital improved value with a minimum and maximum limit.

Notices are likely to be issued to property owners and occupiers early July and by September the council expects to have enough feedback to vote on whether the charge is enacted or scrapped.

“The response will be based solely on the number of objections received,” he said.

“If more than 50 per cent of recipients object then the council can’t proceed. This is a statutory process that can be challenged at VCAT — not a straw poll or a popularity contest.”

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