Warrnambool business levy plan may end in court as resistance rises

The delivery of proposed levy bills to more than 1300 business operators has already been delayed and is likely to remain in limbo for some weeks, placing more uncertainty on the plan by Commerce Warrnambool to raise $600,000 for promotion of the city as a regional trading centre.

The delivery of proposed levy bills to more than 1300 business operators has already been delayed and is likely to remain in limbo for some weeks, placing more uncertainty on the plan by Commerce Warrnambool to raise $600,000 for promotion of the city as a regional trading centre.

WARRNAMBOOL’S controversial proposed business promotion levy has been thrown into more turmoil, with legal action threatened by angry traders and moves within the city council to either scrap it or delay implementation.

The delivery of proposed levy bills to more than 1300 business operators has already been delayed and is likely to remain in limbo for some weeks, placing more uncertainty on the plan by Commerce Warrnambool to raise $600,000 for promotion of the city as a regional trading centre.

There will be two notices of motions in the agenda for Monday night’s public city council meeting: one from mayor Michael Neoh calling for the implementation process to be delayed until September 30 and the other from Cr Brian Kelson calling for it to be abandoned.

If Cr Kelson’s motion is defeated, a group of business operators known as Warrnambool Traders’ Action group has indicated it will seek a court order restraining Commerce Warrnambool from “pursuing actions that are outside the scope of its purpose”

Cr Kelson said he was responding to a request from the group to have the council’s May 19 motion on the levy rescinded. 

At that meeting councillors voted 3-2 to give notice of intention to declare a special rate for property owners and business operators “for the purposes of defraying expenses in undertaking promotion and development of the city as a place to live, work, invest, shop and visit”.

The traders’ group has said Commerce Warrnambool’s proposed levy breached legislation applicable to incorporated associations and its claim of consulting 900 businesses was a gross exaggeration.

Cr Neoh said he was putting forward his notice of motion at the request of Commerce Warrnambool which wanted more time to educate the community on its strategy.

“Commerce Warrnambool has requested an extension so they can further engage with the community,” he said. “They’ve had feedback from individuals and groups.

“An extension would provide opportunity for them to refine their business plan and maybe review the levy amount and educate the community on what it is.

“Extra time would give Commerce Warrnambool more time to engage not only a particular group, but others as well.”

If the September 30 extension is granted the special charge scheme bills would not be posted out until October. 

Official response to those bills would determine whether the council took a further vote on implementing the charge and forwarding the revenue to Commerce Warrnambool.

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