A SMALL business brave enough to adapt to the challenges of COVID, open its doors and put local people into jobs is taking on council over charges they believe could force them to shut down.
Hello Sailor is a new business located at Port Macquarie's marina owned by local businessmen Lee Wood and Scott Mesiti.
They have launched a petition to force council to review its S94 contribution fees for small businesses saying the $86,000 bill they have received in order to secure a permanent DA to cover the outdoor concrete slab, used for socially distancing tables and chairs, is unreasonable.
Port Macquarie-Hastings Council's Settlement City Precinct Contribution is a fee which is paid by businesses to help council manage and maintain the roads infrastructure and accommodate for future development in the precinct of Park, Bay and Warlters streets.
The cost to businesses is calculated on the square metre space they occupy, with varying base costs depending of the type of development.
Mr Wood and Mr Mesiti opened the business in November 2020 and admit they took a risk at a time when many other local business were faced with COVID uncertainty.
That risk has paid off with Hello Sailor employing 25 staff and quickly earning a reputation as a 'place to be' for outdoor casual dining and drinks.
The business paid $8,000 to amend the existing DA and make changes to the indoor portion of the business.
Council then advised they would be up for a separate DA to cover the concreted area they proposed to use as outdoor seating space fronting the waterside of the business. This area is owned by the marina and fronts Crown Land. It is not owned by the business or managed by council and no building has been constructed on it, Lee Wood said.
Because the additional DA increased the business's footprint, the contribution fee increased.
"Because of this DA we ended up two months behind, we were low in funds and desperate to open our doors. We had staff waiting and a lot of sleepless night," Mr Wood said.
Council granted the business a temporary DA to get the doors open, he said.
"We had three workable options - one was to pay it, the second was to work out a way to pay it over a certain amount of time, another was to get a temporary DA for one year," he said.
"The temporary DA cost $23,000 and we paid it as a show of commitment. That was really the only way to get it open. It was a gun in the back.
"And all of this was in COVID times. We wanted to help build the local economy, provide people with jobs, spend our money locally and promote Port Macquarie as a place to come to."
Mr Wood said a bill has now arrived for the remaining $63,000 of the contribution fee and must be paid before a permanent DA for the space is granted.
Hello Sailor has launched a petition on change.org which has generated more than 2000 signatures.
"We are shocked," Mr Wood said. "People we have worked with (at council) are all very sympathetic and helpful and we can't thank them enough. The mayor has been incredible in assisting us and supporting us.
"During COVID the federal government threw out money to support new and small businesses to get back on their feet and our council, who should be the most supportive, are not.
"We've had tremendous support from the local community. It speaks of what we we're trying to put in and what we have got out of it. The idea is to have a new, vibrant COVID safe space with lots of outdoor space and offer something new and different."
Mr Wood said the Minister for Finance and Small Business Damien Tudehope was interested in learning more about their COVID adapted business model after a recent visit to the region.
Hello Sailor has until October to pay the contribution fee and secure a permanent DA, Mr Wood said. Once paid, the DA stays with the site and the contribution fee can be later offset in the value of the business if it is ever sold.
"We understand there needs to be some form of payment for the use of the area. I think $23,000 is a good amount of money for council for a concrete slab that's owned by someone else," Mr Wood said.
"We just want councillors' support and some discussion around how smaller businesses can be separated from larger businesses in terms of these contributions. It needs to be more reasonable.
"We don't have a huge impact on the area - we give more than we take away from it.
"Starting a business during the past year with all its difficulties was not the plan, but like others we have pushed through to strengthen our local economy and to provide jobs to our 25 amazing staff.
"This year has left everyone a little lighter in the pockets but as a community that pulls together, we couldn't be any richer."
Council was contacted for comment about its Settlement City Precinct Contribution fee, how it is applied and used and the concerns raised by Hello Sailor.
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