Fossey’s Gin principal Steve Timmis, left, The Sandbar owner Malcolm Kalms, centre, and The Cellar Door’s Greg Christensen want some rates and charges relief from the City. Photo: PAUL MENSCH

MORE than 12 well-known Mildura business operators have signed a petition calling on the Mildura Rural City Council to waive all rates and charges for commercial properties and businesses that have been severely financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, for the 2020-2021 financial year.

Leading the charge is Fosseys Ginporium and Whisky Distillery owner, Steve Timmis who said his business and those dependent on it providing employment, had been deeply impacted by the COVID-19 lockdowns. 

“I’m fortunate to a degree, having been able to diversify into the ‘Sunitiser’ hand sanitiser product, which has allowed us to survive, but I own the Setts building, and all of the tenants, including my business, are completely out of action and they’re unable to pay any rent,” he said.

“I still have mortgage payments, which although they are deferred, will still need to be paid down the track when this is all over.”

And it is ‘down the track’ that concerns Mr Timmis and is the motivation behind his push to have Council waive their charges to business. 

“I think the situation is going to be far more problematic in the coming months when we come out of this and businesses have to catch up on all of these things,” he said.

Mr Timmis added that there were about 1000 severely affected businesses in Mildura that pay rates, which represents 20 percent of the total rate-paying businesses in the Mildura Council Municipality which number approximately 5000. 

“As far as Council revenue is concerned, business accounts for just over 20 percent of that. In total, approximately $15million. Therefore, we believe that just compensation would be in the order of $3.5-4million, which represents around four percent of total revenue,” he said.

“The hospitality and tourism sector accounts for approximately 14 percent – more than 2000 jobs – of the total employment in this region, which is a significant amount of people. Therefore, the numbers of people and their families who are dependent on these businesses for their livelihoods is enormous. 

“In my own business’ case, I would have between 12 and 15 families who rely on me to generate an income for them. It’s the same with the other businesses who are signatories to the petition – each of them have a cluster of people dependent on their income from the jobs they have with them. 

So it’s vital that they can reopen and continue to be viable ongoing. 

“The direct economic benefit to Mildura is more than $300million and indirectly is estimated to be in the region of $550million – that’s the size of the economic cluster that we are talking about.”

Another signatory to the petition, restaurateur and hotelier, Don Carrazza said that many businesses have been devastated by the coronavirus. 

“In my situation, having a restaurant and hotel closing has involved a lot of money, and in my view, Council has benefitted from my businesses and many others over the years,” he said.

“Now is the time to support businesses that have been adversely affected. I don’t say everybody, but those who have been damaged, and it’s not just the hospitality sector that should be given some help, and I don’t think Council have any excuse not to support us, and that’s why I signed the petition.”

Mr Carrazza said he fears that some businesses may not emerge from this crisis intact and be able to reopen. 

“We have an issue that may see some of the operators walk away from their businesses, and then you’re stuck with an empty building and no income, and that’s something that I am very conscious of and concerned about. But if we can get some support for those businesses, then they may be able to continue,” he said.

Mildura Mayor Simon Clemence said he understood the concerns of the local business community and it was something that Councillors would be discussing at their next meeting. 

“There will be a lot of businesses that will be in financial trouble and that will include restaurants, cafes and hotels and places that effectively been forced to close,” Cr Clemence said. 

“Council would very dearly like to provide the best support that we can and we have had three budget discussions within Council and Councillors are divided over what is the best way to approach this, but obviously there is an intention that we will provide a level of support.

“Just what that is at this stage, will depend on the actual budget vote, and I’m sure there will be a debate on the issue and we will see what the outcome of that is.”