AFTER months of bitter wrangling which has divided Warrnambool’s commercial community, a scaled-back proposed promotion levy will be posted out to 1300 business operators and property owners to determine if it will be enacted for the next five years.
City councillors last night rescinded an earlier vote on May 19 to replace it with a less costly version put forward by Commerce Warrnambool after it responded to a backlash on the initial scheme.
Instead of recipients paying between $300 and $6000 a year to raise $600,000, the levy has been trimmed back to a $100 minimum and $300 maximum to raise $300,000.
Recipients will have a month to respond to the proposed levy scheme.
If less than 51 per cent of recipients object the council will take another vote in December to determine if the levy will be officially enacted from January 1 next year. Last night four councillors voted unanimously to rescind the earlier decision, then voted 3-1 to give notice of the new proposed levy scheme.
Two councillors, Brian Kelson and Peter Sycopoulis, were absent for last night’s meeting while Cr Rob Askew declared an interest and vacated the chamber.
Cr Peter Hulin, who had declared a conflict at the May meeting, remained in the chamber last night and attacked the credibility of Commerce Warrnambool, describing it as unprofessional and rudderless.
Mayor Mike Neoh retorted that all councillors must have an open mind on issues and not take a predetermined view into debates.
“Tonight’s not the final decision,” he said.
“It’s about going out to the Warrnambool business community. If we are about transparency and consultation surely we should hear from the business community first.”
Commerce Warrnambool president Tony Herbert told The Standard the council vote would allow the proposal to go through a proper democratic process.
“The business community has an opportunity to decide for themselves if they want the levy or not — we’ll abide by that,” he said.
“It’s been thrashed out and altered, now I think it’s in a form that has a decent chance of getting through and making a big difference in how Warrnambool is promoted for the benefit of the local economy.”
“If it gets through it will be reviewed in five years to see if it continues.”
Cr Kylie Gaston successfully added a clause that the levy be adjusted annually by three per cent or CPI, whichever was lower.
“I think most people believe a fully-funded promotion levy is a good idea,” she said.
Cr Jacinta Ermacora said she wanted the proposal to be tested by the business community reaction in a fair process. “I’ll keep my mind open,” she said.
“I want to hear from the 1300 then I’ll make a judgment.”
Cr Hulin said he feared the levy could be the last straw for struggling operators and he thought the Commerce Warrnambool promotion plan was vague.