Relief for City of Busselton ratepayers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

The City of Busselton council has endorsed a range of economic and community measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic at a special meeting held on Wednesday evening.

The measures cover essential areas including, but not limited to: rates, commercial leases, procurement, building and planning applications, community and economic development initiatives.

The potential cost to the city in forgone revenue is in the range of $3.5 million.

Some of the key measures adopted include:

  • Freezing interest or fees and charges associated with outstanding rates from April - June 2020 in accordance with a newly adopted Financial Hardship Policy;
  • Halting any debt recovery action on outstanding rates on a case-by-case basis for those impacted by COVID-19;
  • Considering rate relief for small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; and
  • Waiving payment of commercial lease fees on City owned premises for businesses severely impacted by COVID-19 on a case-by-case basis until 30 June 2020.

To stimulate the local economy the city will increase its focus on local procurement, fast track payments to a 14 day payment period and give consideration to the early release of contractor bonds and deposits.

Where there are no risks to safety, the environment or public amenity, the city will speedup building and planning approval processes by relaxing requirements to submit supporting information where it is difficult to provide.

The city has delayed the launch of the 2020/2021 Community Bid Program to refocus that pool of funding on recovery initiatives and will assess the marketing and events sponsorship plan to encompass broader economic development and recovery initiatives including small grants programs, events and regional marketing.

To support the community, city officers have already been directed into support initiatives operating under auspices of church and not-for-profit organisations.

Council has made a commitment to ensure this support is ongoing as may be required.

City of Busselton mayor Grant Henley said the city's package would complement state and federal stimulus and hardship funding developed to protect individual incomes, job retention and business support.

"To ensure municipal support and resources are effectively allocated to local response and recovery efforts, it is critical that we do not duplicate those measures already in place by the government," he said.

Council also endorsed a series of principles to guide the chief executive officer in the preparation of the 2020/2021 budget noting the need to retain flexibility given future uncertainties.

These principles included, but were not limited to:

  • Not increasing rates for the 2020/2021 financial year (i.e. a 0% increase in rates);
  • Introducing weekly, fortnightly and monthly payment options for rates payments;
  • Reviewing salaries and wages growth;
  • Reviewing capital works program of non-essential priority works;
  • Reducing interest and payment charges to rates billing and collection;
  • Consideration of the repurposing of the unallocated and unspent funds from the 2019/2020 marketing and events budgets generated through the industrial and commercial differential rate;
  • Consideration of the utilisation of the city's existing cash reserves for business Continuity;
  • Prioritise local government spending with businesses and contractors within the local government area.

Mr Henley said with these parameters now in place, the city could progress with the preparation of the draft City of Busselton Budget 2020/2021.

"It will, no doubt, take a dramatically different shape than envisaged pre COVID-19," he said.

"Importantly, we must ensure the city is in a position to rebuild the community and stimulate the economy through the generation of works once this has all passed."

Council also agreed to delegate authority to the chief executive officer to:

  • Apply, manage, enact and use their discretion in accordance with the City of Busselton COVID-19 Financial Hardship Policy; and
  • Amend Delegation DA1-14 "Power to Defer, Grant Discounts, Waive or Write-off Debts" (as per Attachment D) tracked version, for the remainder of the 2019/2020.

The full report is available on the city's website busselton.wa.gov.au/City-of-Busselton.