Why the favoured few?

BEN LAWVER is a Hilton ward councillor at the City of Fremantle who’s arguing against giving rate relief to the CBD at the expense of the city’s suburbs.

MEMBERS of the Fremantle council are considering a budget where owners of commercial property in the Freo CBD (even empty shops) will pay less in actual dollars next year (2022/23) for their rates than they paid last year – while residents and all other businesses would see an increase of nearly 6.5 per cent.

How is this possible?

Since around 2008, commercial property owners in Freo’s CBD have made a modest contribution to help fund services and activities that directly help our city centre thrive.

Some of the programs partially funded by the CBD differential rate promote Fremantle as a tourism destination and others literally bring people to CBD businesses’ doorstep(s) ready to spend money. 

Everyone in the city currently contributes to these programs, not just CBD businesses and the differential rate is in place to ensure those who directly benefit make a “reasonable contribution”. 

The proposed budget would greatly reduce the current “reasonable contribution” made by CBD commercial properties and then spread that cost to every other business and resident in the city. 

I appreciate the view shared by the Fremantle Chamber supporting this budget proposal (“Businesses back council on rates,” Herald, June 25) but I struggle to support a budget that would result in owners of empty shops in our CBD having a lower rates bill next year while asking struggling businesses everywhere else in our city to shoulder the cost. 

It is my hope that we can do better. 

In my opinion we should be looking for ways to encourage landlords of empty shops to lease/activate their vacant properties and I’m not convinced lowering their contribution to our city’s budget is the answer. 

Over the past few weeks, I have spoken with hundreds of residents and dozens of businesses around Fremantle and the responses have been fairly consistent: 

  “Reducing rates for empty spaces….. 

• …the proposed rates cut for CBD business’s feels like a slap in the face.”

• “I cannot fathom how it is acceptable for residents to bear the brunt of this (rates) increase while CBD Businesses receive a 0.35 per cent reduction.”

• “I strongly believe that the proposed rate rise of 6.3 per cent is too high for residential ratepayers.”

• “My understanding is that a 6.4per cent rate rise has been proposed for residents and some businesses in the 2022/2023 period, but commercial (CBD) landlords will effectively pay less. How is that a fair and balanced budget proposal.”

• “I’m writing to object to the proposal that residents will pay higher rate costs while CBD businesses will see theirs reduced.”

I want to see Fremantle thrive. I want to continue supporting our CBD with the many festivals, marketing, and the numerous services we all currently help pay for. 

But like many of the people in Fremantle who do not own commercial property in our CBD I would also like to see a more equal rate raise that doesn’t reward landlords with empty shops in our CBD while asking residents and every other business to pay more. 

I do appreciate and consider the views of residents and businesses that have been shared with me. 

If you would like to share yours, I can be reached at BenLaw@Fremantle.wa.gov. au or on Facebook – Ben Lawver Freo Councillor – Hilton Ward.

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