A CONTROVERSIAL pro-posed compulsory levy for Warrnambool business promotion is a now-or-never chance to rescue the city from its doldrums, long-term Liebig Street trader Max Taylor urges.
He’s been in business 42 years and seen four representative groups start and fold after trying to survive on voluntary subscriptions and apathy.
As vice-president of new representative group Commerce Warrnambool, Mr Taylor is convinced a compulsory levy on all 1300-plus commercial and industrial businesses across the municipality is the best way forward.
Critics have urged traders to say no, but Mr Taylor says they are misguided and will rob the city of a vital chance to reverse an alarming slide in business confidence.
He fears more traders will join the exodus from Liebig Street unless shoppers can be encouraged to frequent the CBD.
Mr Taylor cited two previous failed attempts in 2001 and 2007 to get a compulsory levy through. “This is the best proposal I’ve seen in all my years,” he told The Standard.
“This is different because it will distribute the burden across all operators, local and multi-national rather than relying on a few voluntary contributors.
“Unless business operators get off their chairs Warrnambool is not going to improve, but will continue to go backwards. The future is in their hands.”
Commerce Warrnambool has spent almost three years deliberating on how to best represent and promote all businesses across the municipality.
It appointed a specialist consultant who compiled a five-year strategy calculated to cost about $600,000 annually financed by a compulsory levy which would range from $400 to $6000 for commercial properties and $100 to $400 for industrial properties.
“This money would be used to market Warrnambool as the number-one shopping, service and education centre between Geelong and Adelaide,” he said. “The money will be administered by a new committee which will have a strong combined voice to lobby city council on matters of local concern.
“One issue I think should be immediately put forward is to lower parking fines and meter fees which consistently turn many shoppers away from the CBD.”
Mr Taylor witnessed the rise and fall of a chamber of commerce in the 1970s, Warrnambool Business Action in the ’90s, Central Business District Traders and Warrnambool City Centre Traders in the early 2000s.
“They all collapsed through apathy and lack of support by traders,” he said.
“Not even half, and probably barely a third of business operators contributed to these groups through voluntary subscriptions.
“Critics of the new proposed compulsory levy have again suggested voluntary fees, but this will again lead to failure.”
He noticed the downward retail trend start to hit hard when the popularity of online shopping kicked in about the same time as the 2008 global financial crisis. “A lot of traders were locked into high rental agreements,” he said.
“Our expenses and rates are going up, but money over the counter is going down.”
The levy scheme contributions will be mailed out next month by the city council which will rely on responses before voting on whether to make it official.