Tensions boil over as Warrnambool business rate levy decision deferred

The public gallery was overflowing at last night’s city council meeting with concerns over the proposed business levy. 140721DW45 Picture: DAMIAN WHITE

The public gallery was overflowing at last night’s city council meeting with concerns over the proposed business levy. 140721DW45 Picture: DAMIAN WHITE

TENSIONS over a controversial marketing levy reached boiling point at a heated Warrnambool City Council meeting last night.

A decision on the Commerce Warrnambool special rate levy will be deferred until late September following outcry over the consultation process.

More than 100 people crammed into the public gallery at last night’s general meeting where two opposing notices of motion were put before council.

A motion by Cr Brian Kelson calling for the concept to be abandoned was defeated on the casting vote of Warrnambool mayor Michael Neoh. 

Cr Neoh’s alternative motion of deferring the implementation process until September 30 was adopted 3-3 with the mayor using his casting vote to break the deadlock.

With only six councillors at last night’s meeting, a number of votes were tied 3-3 due to Cr Rob Askew’s absence.

Cr Neoh said his motion allowed for more time on the levy proposal and for the democratic process to be observed.

“My motion provides an appropriate time frame for Commerce Warrnambool to review its intentions,” the mayor said, adding that the process also gives the ultimate decision to object to those who will be subject to the levy.”

Dozens of audience members vocally expressed their dissatisfaction with the deferral motion leading Cr Kelson to urge other councillors to drop the proposal.

“Businesses in Warrnambool are struggling,” Cr Kelson said. “A special rate levy will be an added burden that may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

The delivery of proposed levy bills to more than 1300 business operators has already been delayed with a vote on the plan by Commerce Warrnambool to raise $600,000 for promotion not likely until later in the year.

Warrnambool Traders Action Group (WTAG) spokeswoman Amanda Lowen said the level of frustration with Commerce Warrnambool’s approach was clear last night.

A number of WTAG members walked out of the meeting after Cr Kelson’s motion was defeated, warning the mayor of an electoral backlash.

“It was absolutely clear to anyone at the council meeting that no one wants this levy,” Mrs Lowen said. 

“The walkout shows that business people will not put up with how Commerce Warrnambool operates.”

Commerce Warrnambool president Tony Herbert said it was disappointing that some councillors had politicised the levy proposal.

“I just can’t believe how some people in our city want to stop the democratic process,” Mr Herbert said.

“If people want the levy, they can vote for it. If they don’t, they can vote against it whereas (Cr Kelson’s motion) just wanted to stop debate altogether.”

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop