Port Macquarie-Hastings Council will move forward with a reduction of the Town Centre Master Plan (TCMP) business rate levy, instead of abolishing it completely.
Port Macquarie business stalwart Bob Todd said council wasn't "game enough to do what they should have done" at the December council meeting.
"They should have abolished the TCMP," he said.
Councillors debated the motion at the December Ordinary Council Meeting following the independent review and stakeholder and community engagement undertaken in relation to council's current business rating model.
Council has endorsed a 32 per cent reduction in the TCMP component of the Port Macquarie CBD ordinary business rate through to 2027 and a 45 per cent reduction thereafter.
Deputy Mayor Adam Roberts moved a motion that was ultimately lost, which would have seen the TCMP abolished.
"We've had considerable feedback, not only from landowners but from the engagement report," he said when speaking to his lapsed motion.
"I think the rate is inequitable and what I was trying to do with the original motion back in early 2022 was to try and find a better model going forward and that's still my view.
"Reasons for doing this would be to try and work up a model that's more equitable and beneficial."
Cr Roberts also mentioned the issue of an outstanding loan and said there could be "different ways of paying off that loan" than keeping and reducing the TCMP.
Mayor Peta Pinson agreed with abolishing the TCMP.
"There are a lot of people out there who have been paying a very high rate in relation to this business rate model," she said.
"What we're wanting to see is an equitable rating model spread across our whole LGA so we can improve our business districts and our CBD's.
"It should not be up to a small minority to serve the majority."
Councillor Rachel Sheppard spoke against the motion to abolish the TCMP.
"This has been going on for a very long time and the governance around the TCMP and how that money is used has not been agreed on by all, but it has been pretty transparent," she said.
Councillor Sharron Griffiths agreed with Cr Sheppard.
"What has been put into the TCMP has improved the town centre dramatically," she said.
Councilor Danielle Maltman spoke in favour of Cr Roberts' motion and said it's clear to her that a "major number of complaints continues to be lack of transparency" from landowners.
"There are 270 property owners who pay the TCMP levee and this is on top of the defined urban centre base rate," she said.
"As representatives of our community and our ratepayers, it should be a concern to us all if even one of those people feels there has been no transparency."
Cr Roberts said his lapsed motion would have allowed council to "draw a line in the sand".
"What I'm proposing here is waiting six or seven months before a decision is made. What this does is gives us a pathway and simplifies it," he said.
Following Roberts' lapsed motion, Cr Sheppard put forward a motion to note the findings of the independent review and request the CEO to prepare a draft 2023-2024 Operational Plan, Long Term Financial Plan and Revenue Policy in line with the corresponding 32 per cent reduction of the TCMP through to 2027 and 45 per cent reduction thereafter.
"This is the staff recommendation with some changes," Cr Sheppard said.
"While I understand the desire to have a clean slate, we've also been advised that if this levee was abolished, it would take an enormous amount of work to get it back and retaining it in some form gives us options into the future."
Cr Roberts spoke against Cr Sheppard's motion.
"What we've heard is the model is broken and needs to be fixed and there are still so many issues with this motion," he said.
"I think abolishing and starting again is a much better option. We're essentially imposing a tax in this case for many years to come."
Cr Pinson said taking money from a small group of ratepayers to benefit a majority makes her feel sick.
Councillor Lauren Edwards spoke in support of the motion and said it's a "very good compromise and way forward".
The motion was carried five votes to four.
Mr 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.
"Yet here we are, we get a decision to give us a lousy 32 per cent off only the levee. If it was 32 per cent off our rates, that might have been alright, but it's only off the levee.
"Our rates are higher than the Brisbane CBD and three times the price of Coffs Harbour."
Mr Todd said the original concept for the TCMP was "the best thing for Port Macquarie" but described it now as a burden on landowners.
"What council has done is honestly a pittance for what they should have done. They should have abolished it completely," he said.
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.
Since 1994, $5.2 million in Port Macquarie CBD maintenance works and $19.7 million in CBD capital works have been delivered using the Town Centre Master Plan funds.
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