FREMANTLE CBD business have swung behind the council to support a reduction in their rates.
In May the council voted to raise rates across the city by 6.7 per cent to deal with cost increases and a staff pay rise, but to slightly reduce the differential rate in the CBD to help businesses recover from the effects of the pandemic.
But that earned the ire of Hilton councillor Ben Lawver, who says it’s not fair on businesses outside the CBD who are also struggling, and is most likely to benefit wealthy landlords (“CBD rate cut draws Cr’s ire,” Herald, June 18.
National Hotel owner Karl Bullers this week told the Herald that businesses were already in the quiet part of the year, and after the disruption of Covid they could do with any help they could get.
Mr Bullers, a previous chair of the now-defunct Business Improvement District, said when it was disbanded the money collected from the differential rate was channelled into the council’s destination marketing campaigns and made up about 50 per cent of its budget.
He said while the BID operated, the extra rates the businesses were paying were being used directly in the CBD, but the marketing campaign had a broader target and he thinks it’s fair that the cost is now spread more evenly.
Mr Bullers said there were positive signs for Fremantle’s CBD, but at the moment they were on the periphery, such as the Old Courthouse he now runs, the Little Lane development, and some of the bars and businesses off the main strip of the West End.
“It’s coming up around the edges,” he says.
Remedy owner Joe Ottone said he trusts his landlord would pass on the savings from the differential rate reduction, which would help them deal with spiralling costs.
“There is only so much you can recoup in your prices, so anything as small as having rates frozen I think is a really good initiative.
“With the number of empty stores, this is another element of the story.”
But Mr Ottone does agree with Cr Lawver that suburban businesses play an important role for Fremantle, and he’d like them to get some rate relief as well.
Mr Ottone would also like the McGowan government to consider giving small business some relief by reducing workers compensation taxes, saying they’re a significant hit each year, while insurances premiums have outstripped CPI by several hundred per cent for years.
He agreed it would be worth the ACCC looking into the industry, saying while he doesn’t have proof of collusion, the big providers all seem to be in lock-step when it comes to another 10 per cent increase.
The Fremantle Chamber of Commerce has also backed the council.
“The chamber appreciates the efforts of the City of Fremantle to provide more clarity around the rationale for the differential rates across each identified sector, and to assist commercial businesses within the CBD recover from the impacts of reduced visitation and Covid-19 closures and mandates over the last few years,” CEO Danicia Quinlan told the Herald.
“In principle the chamber does support the better balance of rates across our commercial centre and other economic activity areas such as North and South Fremantle.”
In a position paper on the rates, the chamber said it also supported removing the extra tax on nightclubs, introduced to help pay for the clean-up after revellers and colourfully dubbed the ‘vomit tax’.
The chamber is also liking the council’s ‘back to basics’ approach to maintenance and says it wants action on footpaths, wayfinding signage and greening up the CBD.
“The O’Connor, Samson and Hilton areas, in particular, do require attention to the urban real and improving the link to how important these areas are to supporting CBD commercial activity,” the position paper says.
It also wants to see the rates benchmarked against other councils.
“We note that 6.7 per cent (based on minimum payments) is higher than inflation and much higher than property value appreciation.
“Businesses will not be able to raise their charges, or income, by this much and therefore the proposed increase will be a direct hit on the bottom line.
“By not being in line with inflation, likely CPI or an appropriate benchmark, it does seem quite arbitrary in it calculation.”