Council to vote on $8.5 million community package
Published on 27 March 2020
The City of Launceston will next week vote on an $8.5 million Community Care and Recovery Package in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The draft package contains a range of measures designed to assist Launceston's business sector during what is an extremely difficult time, with full details of the plan to be released on Monday.
Developed to provide assistance for six months, the package would be paired with a recommended 0% rate rise in the municipal area for the 2020-21 financial year, and a proposed accelerated $40m capital works program between July 2020 and April 2021.
Similarly, the Cityprom board has recommended a 0% increase on its business levy within the organisation's boundary of the CBD for the 2020/21 financial year.
The proposed Community Care and Recovery Package includes $4.2 million in rates relief for eligible commercial business, $586,000 in rental relief on Council-owned facilities, a $700,000 business grants package, a new Rates Charges Hardship Policy, and more than $465,000 in fee relief for business.
Mayor Albert van Zetten said the package would see eligible small businesses paying no rates whatsoever for six months. While each business's circumstances will be different, in general, businesses likely to benefit from the scheme include small retailers, restaurants, cafes and local service providers.
In general, banks, bottle shops, supermarkets, chemists and large retailers would not be eligible for the scheme. However small businesses within the excluded categories and all other ratepayers (including residential) in financial distress may be eligible for relief under a new Rates Hardship Policy, depending on their circumstances.
Mayor van Zetten said while the Council had no statutory power to compel landlords who received rate relief to pass on the savings to tenants in the form of rent relief, the message was clear.
"It's our view that Launceston commercial property owners have a clear obligation to pass these savings on to business tenants," he said.
"Small business is the lifeblood of our community, and they are employing Northern Tasmanians who rely on wages from these businesses to feed their families.
"It's our clear and unambiguous intent to ease the pressure on small business and assist in their recovery, whether they lease or own the buildings they operate from.
"We would recommend, in the strongest possible terms, that commercial property owners pass these savings on to their business tenants without delay to help keep Northern Tasmanian families afloat."
The package also includes more than $465,000 in fee relief across a range of categories, including food licencing, on-street dining and ground and venue hire; a raft of measures aimed at helping community groups and clubs.
For businesses adapting to new online markets, a pool of $700,000 has been allocated to support innovation. This support would include grants of up to $1000 for professional advice from an expert panel, and up to $7000 for business to implement online solutions.
Groups that rent Council-owned buildings and facilities would see their rent costs waived for six months, while there would also be support for eligible event organisers who have been forced to cancel or postpone events.
Deputy Mayor Danny Gibson said the Community Care and Recovery Package represented a clear, considered and targeted response to the economic impacts of the pandemic.
"Councillors and Council officers have worked in partnership with organisations like the Northern Tasmanian Development Corporation to develop this detailed package of economic measures for our city," Cr Gibson said.
"While the State and Federal governments are rightly focused on stimulus, we are looking towards recovery and how we can ensure our small business sector is in the best possible position six or 12 months from now.
"In addition to the Community Care and Recovery Package, we will also be seeking to accelerate a $40 million capital works program, funded in part by an interest free loan from the State Government."
Mayor van Zetten said despite the scope of the package, the Council remains in a strong financial position with healthy cash reserves.
"Our Long Term Finance Plan will need to be modified to reflect the cost of this package, but with ongoing strong financial management, we believe we can comfortably maintain our high standard of service delivery to the community moving forward," Mayor van Zetten said.
The full details of the Community Care and Recovery Package will be released on Monday on the City of Launceston's website, ahead of Thursday's Council meeting.