Rates ruling ‘sends wrong message’
A spokesperson from property developer Megara has said the group was “really disappointed” with the City of Greater Geraldton’s decision to reject its request for a rates waiver.
At the ordinary council meeting in January, councillors voted 11-1 against the executive recommendation which suggested waiving rates for the 2017-18 financial year on Megara’s development site in Wonthella.
Megara had requested the waiver after development costs of the former depot site, located on Eastwood Road, escalated significantly due to several issues and delays.
Development of the site began in February last year but was delayed by the discovery of a water mains pipe 16m off alignment, unknown Telstra services through the site and the need to lower gas mains.
In its submission, Megara referenced the council’s current strategy for development concessions in the CBD, which aims to stimulate and encourage investment in the city centre.
During the meeting councillors noted the policy was specifically confined to the CBD and was not intended to spread outside the allocated area.
But Megara development manager Trent Durward said this sent the wrong message to potential investors.
“We know that (policy is) only for the CBD,” he said.
“But we felt there were a lot of unique circumstances, and it was a contaminated site that really had a limited opportunity for it to be developed.
“We’ve made an investment into the city and in retrospect some of the issues that came about couldn’t have been known at the time of purchasing the site. What message does this send to other people trying to invest outside of the CBD?”
If the waiver was approved, council would have lost $15,932.56 in rates revenue.
According to briefing notes in the agenda, the City would gain substantial additional rates revenue from the commercial building developments on the site, which will include an Aldi supermarket, a liquor store and a fast food restaurant.
At the council meeting, Cr Lewis Freer said Megara should be following up the issues it faced with the relevant service providers.
Mr Durward said they had considered pursuing a compensation from the providers, but were keen to get the development under way as soon as possible.
“We considered having those arguments at the time, but unfortunately to get the development up and going we didn’t want to get locked in negotiations,” he said.
“There is a point where mitigation and arbitration is costly and too time-consuming, and we just wanted to get the development up and running.”
Previous requests for rates exemptions from other organisations and companies have divided the council.
In 2017 the Murchison Region Aboriginal Corporation made an application to the State Administrative Tribunal after the City declined its request for a rates exemption.
Public sentiment online is broadly opposed to rates exemptions, with community members arguing it was unfair on ratepayers.
Mayor Shane Van Styn said council decisions were based on a variety of information.
“Councillors and I make decisions on all the facts presented to us, as well as interactions with the public,” he said.
Mr Van Styn was among the elected members who voted against the motion.
“We have compassion for the developer’s problem,” he said.
“But this is not a unique problem; with Geraldton being one of the State’s oldest towns it means we have a lot of underlying legacy infrastructure that we deal with on a daily basis.
“I was initially a supporter of the concession, but having listened to the debate and the community, the message was clear it wasn’t supported.”
Cr Victor Tanti was the only elected member present to vote in favour of the executive recommendation.
Cr Simon Keemink, Jennifer Critch and Steve Douglas were not present at the meeting.
A review of council policies and strategies related to development will be initiated and the City will consider a city-wide framework.
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