BALLARAT businesses fear high commercial rates in the city could force many already struggling commercial enterprises to simply shut-up shop.
While the City of Ballarat's draft budget 2020-21 shows a slight reduction in commercial rates - on average expected to save businesses about $500 a year - commercial rates are still higher than other regional centres across the state.
For example, according to its draft budget, the City of Greater Geelong expects to raise $33.4 million from its 5977 rateable commercial properties in the 2020-21 financial year, at an average of $5588 per customer, up $2.43m from the previous year.
But according to the City of Ballarat's draft budget for 2020-21, commercial rates calculated across Ballarat's 2366 commercial properties will see an average price of $8978 per business, down from $9331 in 2019-20.
Business owners The Courier spoke to this week said while any reduction in rates was always welcomed, there were fears that a number will simply stay shut.
Gavin James, who owns Lake Wendouree Luxury Apartments in Webster Street, said his business faced a double-edged sword.
Not only did he say he paid rates of around $17,000 a year, but he was also competing with online accommodation platforms that fall under the residential rate scheme.
He said with the loss of overnight business due to COVID-19 restrictions, his business had reverted to majority long-term rentals, yet still was paying commercial rates.
"We pay around $17,000 a year in Webster Street and we just can't afford to do business that way," he said.
"I have put in a request with council and we are hoping for a rezoning. That would save us probably $6000-$7000, almost 50 per cent.
"Right now, we're struggling for business and you have to accept a much lower rate than you would otherwise and I can't see it coming back in quite a few years. We might have to sell."
Mr James said it was incumbent on all forms of government to give relief to industries suffering.
"We can't keep paying the same commercial rates when we have 80 per cent less business," he said.
"And if you want to have a short term accommodation market, it should be fair right across the board.
"I think if you're affected by the virus, and there's very few businesses that have escaped, we all have to share the pain and that includes the council."
In an interview with The Courier in 2018, Commerce Ballarat's Jodie Gillett said "We understand that there are many factors to take into consideration when a Council sets their rate structure, including the size of the rate catchment area, but it is always important to keep front of mind the business community and their critical contribution to the city.
"If there is ever an opportunity for consideration for rate relief it would be welcomed by many industries that are under pressure from increasing day to day costs."
Speaking this week, Ms Gillett said those comments remained true to this day.
"We understand council is a very big business and has to deliver the services they have to deliver," she said.
"From a commercial point of view, we'd appreciate a freeze. We wouldn't like to see any increases in commercial rates in the near future.
"Any reduction is absolutely welcomed and we would be encouraging council to look at every possibility to give more to the business community as it can."
Ms Gillett said the federal government's JobKeeper program was keeping businesses afloat until September, but over the next year the full ramifications of COVID-19 would be made more clear.
Ballarat mayor Ben Taylor said commercial rates are assessed exactly the same way as residential rate where the valuation of the property is multiplied by the rate in the dollar.
"The total proportional valuation of commercial ratepayers compared to the whole municipality had decreased as a result of the 2020 revaluation, as a result the average rates payable by commercial ratepayers will decrease in 2020-21," he said.
Cr Taylor said there had been initiatives introduced to assist businesses to recover from COVID-19.
Among those are to; extend final 2019-20 rate installment for Ballarat businesses directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, from May 31, 2020 to June 30, 2020 without penalty, assess businesses on an individual basis if they are claiming financial hardship, provide additional information for businesses around what they can do to modify their usual practices in these changed circumstances.
"We have created a dedicated Economic Response Contact Centre team who have currently provided advice and support to 460 business owners," Cr Taylor said.
Other initiatives he said would help business including the continued free parking in the city during the pandemic, the continuation of the $52 million capital work budget which would help with stimulated the economy and the maintaining of the $2.8 million tourism budget so the city can be promoted as a tourist destination once the pandemic is over.
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