Can­di­dates eye tourist tax

Augusta Margaret River Times - - News - War­ren Hately What do you reckon? Email letters to ed­i­tor@am­r­

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.

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