Port Macquarie-Hastings Council will undertake a review before making a decision on whether to remove the Town Centre Master Plan (TCMP) business rate levy.
The review of the business sub-categories will be undertaken by council's CEO Dr Clare Allen.
Subject to the review, if council decides to re-categorise the land within the business category, whereby all land within the Port Macquarie CBD Business Sub-Category has been re-categorised to Business - Defined Urban Centres, a request will be made of the CEO to draft an Operational Plan for the 2022-2023 financial year with the removal of the TCMP levy.
Town centre businesses are charged under a Port Macquarie CBD business rate with a component of this rate - the TCMP levy - allocated to streetscape, landscaping and beautification works within the Port Macquarie town centre that have been identified and prioritised under the master plan.
The levy was introduced in 1993 with a council sub-committee formed to manage the master plan and propose CBD works priorities. The sub-committee acts as a conduit between CBD businesses and council.
Works funded under the TCMP since its establishment, both capital and maintenance, have been in excess of $23 million, according to council.
Deputy mayor Adam Roberts put forward the motion at the February 2022 council meeting and said this is a process council must go through to model what life may look like for business owners in the CBD.
"The premise of part of this motion is to have a look at the business rate that is supplied to those CBD landowners and to also have a look at some modelling to see if that is able to be removed and what impacts that may have," he said.
"The reason why I'm putting this forward is, to my understanding, some landowners no longer want to be part of that business levy or rate. What I'm asking council to do is look at what the impacts would be of removing that rate."
This comes after a petition started in August last year calling for the TCMP levy to be removed.
The petition was started by CBD property owner Robert Sagolj who wrote to council in February 2021 requesting the rates for his CBD properties be put on hold until a review of the TCMP levy could be conducted.
Council said in August last year that the average CBD business pays about $12,000 annually in rates.
An average non-CBD business pays just $3,100.
For 2021-2022, the total rates levied in the CBD area were $3,319,468, with $1,240,600 or 37.37 per cent, attributable to the TCMP levy.
Port Macquarie business stalwart Bob Todd opened his first business in the Port Macquarie CBD in the 70s and said he supported the levy at the time it was introduced but believes it should now be removed.
"I think that what the levy achieved was really special. The Port Macquarie CBD was in need of an upgrade when the population started to grow and beautifying the CBD has made it more attractive to tourists," he said.
"However, the levy was only supposed to be for a certain amount of time and it should now be removed. Our rates in the CBD are higher than Brisbane and it's unfair."
Cr Roberts' motion also included undertaking an independent review of the historical Town Centre Master Plan processes, practices, fees, charges, management structures and outcomes achieved.
A report detailing the findings of the independent review will be provided to council before community consultation will take place on a pathway forward for the future development and maintenance of the Port Macquarie CBD.
"This allows us to look at a process moving forward where we could still deal with improvements to the CBD in another way," Cr Roberts said.
Mr Todd said the levy does place a financial burden on shop tenants as well as business and landowners in the CBD.
"The levy was great when it was introduced, but it has gone up over time and the CBD is now upgraded. It's time for it to go and I hope council sees that," he said.
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