Candidates eye tourist tax
Council candidates will consider seeking community feedback on ways to recoup more from visitors using ratepayer-funded amenities.
For many years, councillors have acknowledged the region’s tourism appeal adds to the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River’s running costs, but tithes or tourism taxes are not within the remit of local government.
The issue raised its head again during consultation for the recently adopted Community Strategic Plan, with residents giving feedback about the cost pressures of living in a tourism destination.
Councillor Felicity Haynes, who is seeking re-election, highlighted the issue last week and told the Times she recognised a “great opportunity to seek community participation in seeking a workable solution”. She said the council previously discussed a “bed tax” but it would be difficult to enforce and could add to costs for visitors to the region.
Shire president Ian Earl said the bed tax previously “went down like a lead balloon with the accommodation industry”.
“A fair percentage of the community benefit from the tourism industry, so it would be unfair to target just one sector,” he said.
Kim Hastie and Naomi Godden backed the call for consultation, with Dr Godden advocating for a community reference group.
Dr Godden said a differential rate for absentee landlords — which made State headlines in 2004 — and developer contributions for upkeep of tourism facilities could also be considered.
Cr Hastie said “the easy path” of a tax might be fruitless.
“Maybe the benefits already offset the additional costs,” he said.
Businesswoman Pauline McLeod said the differential rates affecting tourism operators already recouped funding from the sector. “Our tourism industry has grown organically,” she said.
“It is made up of many small local operators who work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to keep their businesses going and to compete with other tourism regions.”
Cowaramup’s Julia Meldrum was against a tax and said the Shire focusing on core business would reduce costs. “We must not lose sight of the benefits that tourism brings to the region,” she said.
Candidate Frank Edwards said Shire officers had to guide understanding of direct costs from the tourism sector.
“I want to establish what funds are being raised already and how they are being spent, then we have something to explore and debate,” he said.
Cr Kylie Kennaugh said the rise of Airbnb made any revenueraising scheme more difficult than ever.
Several candidates said lobbying for State Government funding — like with the Cultural Centre and main street redevelopment — was a practical way to get more financial offsets.