MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire Council will cop a $1 million hit by waiving or reducing fees and charges in support of the business sector, community and the “most vulnerable” in the COVID-19 environment.
The measures are part of a $10 million package of spending and support included in council’s 2021-22 budget aimed at helping peninsula businesses and organisations recover from the effects of the pandemic. It also includes $650,000 to re-establish outdoor dining during the warmer months; $2.2 million for a community grants program; $500,000 to fast track priority climate emergency actions and $490,000 for the Peninsula Trail shared path.
Council adopted the package at its meeting on 27 July.
The mayor Cr Despi O’Connor said the council was “seriously committed to helping our community recover from COVID”.
“We know the pandemic hit the Mornington Peninsula’s economy more severely than most other parts of Australia. At its peak last year, 2205 jobs were lost and 59 per cent of our businesses were on JobKeeper, the highest rate in Victoria and third highest in the nation.
“We’re not out of the woods yet. This $10 million package will provide tangible financial support to some of the hardest hit sectors of our community and help our economy bounce back and become more resilient.”
Major projects manager Davey Smith said a “key consideration was to ensure accessibility and a robust yet easy processes” in claiming the relief. “We do not want to exclude those within our community from accessing these waivers due to over administration and excessive process,” he said.
Waivers and fee reductions will cover footpath trading (with or without liquor) of 100 per cent, expected to cost the council $174,000; events and live entertainment – 100 per cent for busking permits (costing the shire $3000) as well as Pope [Place of Public Entertainment] fees ($26,000), event fees and charges ($37,000), and the artists-in-residence program at Police Point – 50 per cent ($10,000).
Sports’ club leases and seasonal licenses will receive half-fee waivers ($140,000) while children’s swimming lessons will get full waivers ($40,000).
To help process applications the shire will employ temporary events and COVID-19 hardship outreach officers on salaries of $80,000 each.
Sports clubs could gain further with the council voting to consider full waivers before the end of the financial year.
Infrastructure planning team leader Grace McGuinness told the council research had identified “those areas of the peninsula hardest hit financially by the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns”.
“Along with other recovery programs, waiver or reduction of these fees and charges will add to the assistance we are able to provide to target businesses, community groups and individuals most impacted by COVID-19 restrictions,” she said.
These include food and hospitality businesses, businesses and community groups wishing to hold events, community sports clubs and the arts and culture sector.
“Waiver or reduction of these fees will also contribute to reactivating the local economy,” Ms McGuinness said.
“These waivers are balanced with the need to continue funding essential council services and the potential long-term impacts of COVID-19 on revenue and services.”
The officers recommended a $410,000 COVID-19 hardship fund to cover fee relief and a dedicated COVID-19 hardship outreach officer to administer and support the program.
Cr Antonella Celi said that as “restrictions are easing it is important there are no more delays” in getting the benefits of the waivers and fee reductions out to recipients.
She said the appointment of officers to help applicants through the paperwork was money well spent.
“We are responding to the community; it is a really good start,” she said.