Small business being crippled by price hikes, says former Douglas Shire CEO


Howard Salkow

Senior Journalist

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Former Douglas Shire CEO Terry Melchert believes small businesses in Port Douglas and Mossman are doing it tough. IMAGE: Newsport.
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 - BUDGET: Council to spend big on new projects as rates rise by 3.9 per cent 

A FORMER chief executive of the Douglas Shire Council and councillor believes the recent rate and utility charges increase along with the rise of other fees, is crippling small business.

Terry Melchert said the market is changing from what used to be a low volume-high yield situation to a high volume-low yield scenario.

“This is tough for small enterprises and the number of vacant shops in Macrossan Street in Port Douglas, and Front Street in Mossman is testament to this,” he said.

Melchert said business really needs some property revitalization across the board to keep the tourists coming.

“Council lost a big opportunity in not being more encouraging about the Marina re-development. I would like to have seen a local architect, such as Gary Hunt, engaged by Council to act in mediating the special nature of the marina area, community needs and aspirations and those of the developer.”

But Douglas Shire Mayor Julia Leu said mediation was not required.

“Council submitted a request for further information, which is a normal part of any development application process,” she said.

“The developers withdrew the application on their own volition to revisit the master plan to better involve the wider community and refine the development to suit the area.”

In unleashing what he describes as a “horror budget on the community”, Melchert said big increases in rates and charges are affecting businesses, families – especially those with children trying to pay a mortgage – pensioners and rural producers.

Melchert paints a grim picture since de-amalgamation. 

“A residential property paying the minimum general rate, receiving water sewerage and cleansing services, and using 300kilolitres of water per year, their estimated cost for the 2018-19 financial year is $3,113.63 – which is a whopping 27.9% since de-amalgamation.”

He also lists the residential utility charges increases since de-amalgamation:

• Sewerage – up 22.6%
• Cleansing (garbage collection) – up 31.9%
• Water Access Fee – up 35.1%
• Water charge per kilolitre – up 33.0%
• The cost of water for commercial properties is even higher at $1.56 per kilolitre.

But, says Leu, in 2014, Douglas Shire Council, which included Terry Melchert, democratically implemented a strategy to reach financial sustainability in the 2019/20 financial year.

“Rate rises have been required to reach this goal with a minimum impact on ratepayers,” Mayor Leu said.

Melchert bemoans the fact that water infrastructure is falling behind.

“For political expediency Council has let capital works slip. While it makes big announcements about water infrastructure, it is clear water infrastructure is falling behind. This is evidenced by the fact that while we have had a good wet season we still have strict level 2 water restrictions,” he said.

“We currently have plenty of water in the shire, with supply streams being in full flow. Clearly we have the water to use, and the Council has let the infrastructure fall behind so far it can’t treat or deliver it to properties.”

Leu challenges Melchert when she says Council has not let capital works slip and has delivered more than $50 million in capital works in the past three years.

“This has included three back-to-back record investments. The 2018/19 Capital Works program will inject $16.49 million worth of works and is Council’s second highest on record,” she said.

“Council is committed to the constant renewal and improvement of water infrastructure.

The aim is to put future councils in good stead and not burden them with ageing infrastructure.

“Council has put $3.8m towards water security in the 2018/19 financial year.”

Melchert, meanwhile, said he had not heard any great support for the off-leash dog area.

“My observation is people just want areas where they can let their dogs run in designated areas on the beach or maybe some park areas. This would not cost $145,000 – or maybe it will in Douglas with its high overheads.”

Cr Leu contends that Council has received a fantastic response after the off-leash park announcement from dog owners in Douglas Shire.

She added the off-leash area on Four Mile Beach is being reviewed as part of the Local Law Review, which will be released later this year.


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