High rates impact businesses
HIGH council rates imposed on businesses and excessive red tape mean Lismore is rapidly losing its crown as the capital of the Northern Rivers to its coastal rival Ballina, Lismore business owners warn.
Lismore City Council, which already charges CBD businesses almost 10 times more than neighbouring Ballina, is considering an additional 0.44 per cent rate rise for the area’s 1083 businesses.
On top of a flat base rate Lismore CBD businesses are slugged a further 3.75pc of their land value, compared with 0.39pc in Ballina. Urban businesses in Lismore are rated at 1.49pc and others at 0.99pc.
The proposed addition 0.44pc rise will directly finance promotions to encourage people back into the CBD that has a rental occupancy rate of only 65pc.
Yet many, including Lismore real estate agent Wilson Cregan, of Wal Murray, said high rates that were inevitably included in rents were hurting the viability of shops and adding to the area’s vacant shops.
“I don’t think rates have an effect on people when they open shops, but they are not helping once they are established, which is a big issue in the CBD at the moment,” he said.
Former Lismore councillor and businessman Brian Suffolk said instead of slugging ratepayers more the council should immediately release more land to expand its ratepayer base and spread the pain.
With more people living in the area, local businesses would turn over more money and create jobs.
He said council red tape and reluctance to approve development applications were the major issues restricting Lismore’s growth.
It is a problem Butch Verardo knows well. He has operated Summerland Tool Supplies in South Lismore for 20 years.
“If they (Lismore council) keep going the way they are going, Lismore is going to lose more businesses and more jobs to Ballina,” he said.
Three years ago he walked away from a planned $300,000 expansion after battling what he called an ‘arrogant’ council.
“After nine months of trying to get my development approved by council I gave up. They kept on changing the goalposts and imposing additional conditions that I wouldn’t have faced in Ballina,” Mr Verardo said.
He said he had problems with the attitude of the general manager, which carried through to other staff.
“They kept on telling me I had to build a road with a turning circle for a heavy, rigid truck,” Mr Verardo said. “They couldn’t accept that trucks making deliveries to me are not large, heavy, rigid trucks.”
He said as the project timeline blew out so did the estimated cost – from $300,000 to $500,000 – making the development uneconomical.
The newly elected council is aware of the need to reinvigorate the CBD and in the last year has appointed a full-time city centre manager and a business liaison officer from the private sector to help companies navigate council regulations.