Trader levy halved – a victory for voices

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Commerce Warrnambool has heavily revised its plans for a compulsory levy to try and lure shoppers back to the CBD, but will its ideas win over traders? Image: Soul Shopping.


[dropcap style=”color: #a02f2f;”] I [/dropcap]t has been a long and often heated battle, but the proposed compulsory traders levy to raise funds for Commerce Warrnambool is now fully transparent and more realistic in it aims – purely through the power of grassroots action.

In a revised motion to go to the Warrnambool City Council on Monday (Sept 1), the annual levy – which will operate for five years – has been halved from $600,000 to $300,000 and no trader, be they commercial or industrial, will be asked to pay more than $300 per year, compared to up to $6000 in the initial plan.

Commerce Warrnambool President Tony Herbert had hoped the council might kick in the remaining $300,000 from general revenue, but this has not happened. Instead, Commerce Warrnambool has gone through its budget and emerged with a more modest plan to promote and market Warrnambool.

For starters, the budget for a full-time executive officer, support staff and other management and communication costs has been cut from an initial $200,000 to $95,000, with a suggestion that the executive officer could be either full or part time.

This does away with concerns that the levy would do little more than pay for the salary of someone sitting behind a desk, enjoying a very nice job for the next five years.

Advertising has been cut from $120,000 a year to $75,000 and plans to take on the Warrnambool Business Awards and attend the Regional Living Expo – both of which are currently handled by the council – have been scrapped.

a-frame traders
The promotions may not be simple as this one, but Commerce Warrnambool has outlined its plan in more detail. Image: Unknown/Facebook

[dropcap style=”color: #a02f2f;”] I [/dropcap]mportantly, Commerce Warrnambool has also set down – for the first time – very clear projects that will be funded by the levy.

They include three promotional activities in the first year for a total cost of $80,000: a shop local car giveaway; a spring produce promotion and a Christmas promotion.

It also includes projects for business support, education and networking: four professional development workshops (total cost $20,000) and four networking activities (again $20,000).

The strange idea of raising $100,000 each year toward “an infrastructure project” has also vanished, thank goodness, because this was fraught with difficulties around who would decide what project was worthy and how it would be chosen.

Will those traders who were heavily opposed to the levy warm to the revised plan?

Perhaps not – remember they never asked for a levy in the first place – but at least now there is air and light around what Commerce Warrnambool will do with the funds. This is far better than its “trust us” approach that came with its first plan that asked for $3 million over five years, despite having no runs on the board in terms of delivery.

city warrnambool
The revised levy proposal sets out a more modest budget and details how the money will be spent to promote the city of Warrnambool and support businesses.

[dropcap style=”color: #a02f2f;”] T [/dropcap]here is also, in the paperwork before council, a very clear process outlined for the first time as to how traders can object to the levy.

Traders no longer have to worry that they won’t be notified (they will, as will landlords) or that they will miss out on lodging an objection.

The documents tell us that, once the notification is given, they have until November 3 to make an objection or written submission (or both) and, if so inclined, can have a say at the council meeting on November 17.

See all of this information above? This is how transparency works; this is proper process, and if all of this detail had been laid out clearly from the very beginning, then perhaps the levy idea would not have fallen into a ditch.

For this we can thank the tenacious grassroots lobbyists within the Warrnambool Traders Action Group for doing their bit to ensure democracy is alive and well in Warrnambool: that when it comes to public funds and accountability, everyone has a right to ask questions, no matter how prickly or how “annoying”.

This is not an easy thing to do in a regional city, where networks are tight and long in the making.

It takes great courage to risk falling out with friends, or customers, or business colleagues because you dare to challenge an idea that you are being told is “good for the city”.

For what its worth, we have had a small taste of the consequences of running against the grain here at Bluestone.

book launch
The packed book launch for ‘Warrnambool; This is Home’ at The Last Coach: an event that never happened, according to the local newspaper.

[dropcap style=”color: #a02f2f;”] R [/dropcap]eaders will know that, last week, I launched my small book “Warrnambool: This is home” and that this book, written before Bluestone began, features 30 iconic Warrnambool places and faces, including Kermonds, Mack’s Snacks, the Materia Bros, Ryans Removals etc.

More than 80 people crammed into the launch at the Last Coach, including members of these wonderful Warrnambool families, but was there a word about it in the local newspaper? No, despite, ironically, two of the paper’s longest-serving reporters being featured in the book.

Why was this so? Because I am part of Bluestone Magazine? Or because we occasionally question the newspaper? (Just as the newspaper’s reporters occasionally challenge us: we consider it healthy debate). I don’t know, but we find it deeply troubling that the only newspaper in a major regional city appears to have a blacklist.

This is why what the traders action group has achieved over the past six months is so important – and its impact goes well beyond what you might think of the levy.

By using grassroots activism – social media, shoe leather, door knocking, posters on windows and whatever else it takes – it has refused to be silenced and has, under considerable stress and strain, won the battle for transparency, accountability and due process.

It has shown that you can speak out, and up, and while it can be exhausting and wearing, you can be heard.

This is what makes it an important victory for us all.

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10 thoughts on “Trader levy halved – a victory for voices”

  1. First time commenting on your articles however long time reader.

    What a brilliant, honest, unbiased & sincere article. Please keep up the fantastic work.

  2. Well done Carol. Your honest and open opinion always shines through in all the articles you write. I can’t thank the team behind the traders action committee enough…our small business was looking at a bill of about $5k which is crippling considering we didn’t sign up for commerce warrnambool in any formal document….We agree our town needs to be strongly advertised to the world but certainly not at the expense of local businesses, as it’s our local businesses and their staff that bring the tourists to our town!…Warrnambool needs to shine…lets all agree on how to create that shine that draws locals and tourists back to our town!

  3. First let me just say that your book is heart warming and a showcase of all of the independent diverse business’s and people of this great city and what so many warrnamboolians feel connected and familiar with. Congratulations.

    I am not a business owner but I do shop in the cbd and have seen its demise. On a Friday night now the retail precinct is a ghost town after 6pm, no late night shopping.
    As for the (sub) standard, they really should hang their heads in shame. What short sighted and egocentric people decide to blacklist a valid opinion.
    Keep up the good fight Bluestone

  4. “They include three promotional activities in the first year for a total cost of $80,000: a shop local car giveaway; a spring produce promotion and a Christmas promotion.” Wow. Riveting. Sounds just like what fundraising folk provide outside Woolworths each Saturday.

  5. Well all I know is that I would much rather be in the naughty corner with Bluestone than keeping quiet to please a few with perceived power. Well done!

  6. Congratulations Bluestone – another small but not insignificant victory for you and the band of traders who were not going to go down without a fight or should that be”vigorous debate”? And you Miss Carol, your clear, straight-forward, logical thinking and the bravery to question the actions of people in power have been inspiring to witness.

  7. Congratulations Bluestone- without your story on the trader levy, many of us including the traders would be totally in the dark. I love the fact that you actually follow the story through, do the homework, and lay out the facts in an informative and factually correct manner. Once upon a time there were many journalists like you out in the wide world…sadly this skill is slowly disappearing and in it’s place we have newspapers full of sensational headlines and stories with very little substance. I am shocked and ashamed that our local paper The Standard has not seen fit for whatever reason to report on such a heart warming, iconic book as Warrnambool: This is home. They should hang their head in shame. I find this an extremely frightening precedence, question us and we will blacklist you. Serious stuff. I think we in the Southwest need to be afraid…very afraid.

  8. This is the modern day version of speakers corner in the local park. Long live democracy. I am waiting for ALL of our elected councillors to answer phone calls respond to emails and be seen in parks to voice the concerns of The People to those who run city hall.
    Thank you, Bluestone and Stop the Levy.

  9. Hey Carol, I enjoy reading Bluestone but you really need to give this anti-Standard stuff a rest. I saw a photo of you appeared in the newspaper today (Thursday) so I don’t think they’ve got anything against you personally. I would say the real reason behind the lack of publicity is that Bluestone is a competitor, just as Channel 7 doesn’t promote Channel 9 and vice versa. Perfectly reasonable.

    1. Hi Jan – I try not to be ‘anti Standard’ – the more local media the better, in my view – but I feel the people who appeared in my book deserved recognition, not me. I didn’t expect them to report on Bluestone (for the very reason you mention) but the book should stand separate to my work here. Yes, we did make the social pages today, so perhaps my comment resonated?

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