Rescue plan for Lismore CBD a 'long time coming'
LISMORE City Council has voted to hand an average $1000 per year back to it's CBD ratepayers to address the exorbitant business rates that some say are crippling businesses and scaring away future development of the town.
The initiative led by mayor Isaac Smith will overhaul the council's CBD rate collection program and allocate almost $250,000 in this financial year to go back to ratepayers - worth about $1000 for the average valued property.
The motion, introduced as a mayoral minute at Tuesday night's council meeting, passed in a tight 6-5 vote, with the mayor plus councillors Darlene Cook, Bill Moorhouse, Elly Bird, Neil Marks, and Gianperio Battista in favour.
Greens councillors Vanessa Ekins and Adam Guise, plus Eddie Lloyd, Greg Bennett and Nancy Casson voted against the motion.
Isaac Smith said the initative was a "long time coming" and a "great first step" toward bringing back Lismore's business rates in line with similar commercial centres such as Ballina and Byron.
It is expected to be formally approved after a standard 28 day public exhibition period.
"This has been 18 months to two years in the making, we know the (rates) issue has been building up, and it's really come to a head," Cr Smith said.
The mayor said the council was also aiming to fully address the issue in its next budget to gradually bring CBD rates back to a comparable level to neighbouring towns.
Today they are anything but.
Lismore real estate agent Paul Deegan, who pays $14,000 in rates for his shop, said there was only five suburbs in NSW who pay more than Lismore - Sydney, Newcastle, and Woolongong CBDs, plus Ryde and Blacktown in Sydney's west.
"There is nowhere else in regional NSW that has commercial rates anywhere near Lismore," he said.
Mr Deegan was one of several business owners to welcome the rebate as a step in the right direction for Lismore.
He said the council needed to continue to act if it was to stop the CBD from stagnation.
But Greens councillor Vanessa Ekins said she voted against the motion because it was "political point scoring" by the mayor trying to "gazump" other councillors.
Councillor Greg Bennett had flagged a motion to freeze business rates until they reached parity with other council areas.
She labelled the $1000 rebate as "tokenstic" which relied upon scrapping a CBD retail strategy that involved six months of work with the wider community.
"I think we need a long term strategy for the CBD and I agree that rates are high.
"(The $1000) is unlikely to trickle down to half those business in town that don't own their buildings."
Golden Crust Bakery's Brett Rook said he had noticed local landlords complaining about high rates for some time and had seen the impact on the maintenance of shops in the CBD.
"Some of the shopfronts are a bit daggy and need a tidy up," Mr Rook said, "but a lot of them don't want to improve the shops because the rates are too high".
Alex Coronakes from Tropicana on Keen St said his $6000 rate bill was "way over the top" for a small shop of its size.
"This (rebate) is a start, it will help a little bit for some people," he said.
He reminised back to the golden age of Lismore retailing in the '60s and '70s, when people would stay "all day in town" and Molesworth St was the most sought after shopping strip in the region.
He said the sky high rates weren't the only cause of the decline but they didn't help.
"You can't have all these empty shops."
As part of the iniative, the council will write to all property owners encouraging them to pass on the savings to business tenants.
Business owners can expect to get the rebate listed under Section 356 financial assistance on their next quarterly rate bill.