'GHOST TOWN': Is Lismore's CBD losing out to Ballina?

BUSINESSES in the Lismore CBD have been thrown a temporary lifeline, with councillors voting for a delay in making a decision on its much criticised business rates.

An additional ordinary meeting of Lismore Council was held last night and the gallery packed with small business owners, operators and council staff.

The 2018-2018 budget was passed with an agreement to delay a final decision on the business rates until next month pending legal advice.

Cr Darlene Cook moved the motion and it was voted for by Cr Gianpiero Battista, Cr Elly Bird, Cr Neil Marks, Cr Moorhouse and Mayor Cr Issac Smith.

The attentive public gallery included included Lismore Chamber of Commerce and Industry president, Deborah Benhayon, the chamber's membership officer Paul Deegan, many small business owners and former mayor Jenny Dowell, who was there to support the Northern Rivers Rail Trail.

It was Ms Dowell's first appearance in the chambers since her retirement from the council.

Several speakers discussed the perilous state of the Lismore CBD - including Chris Mallam, Paul Deegan and Chris Harley - and all received applause after their presentations.

The three men stated if something was not done to stop the business rates deterring tenants and investor, the Lismore CBD would become a ghost town.

Mr Mallam described the business rates as a "crisis".

"Most of the current property owners are between a rock and hard place," he said.

"If the status-quo remains it's all downhill... the commercial property situation is sick."

He asked about the appropriateness of retailers going into the old Masters site in South Lismore.

"It's the worst kept secret in town that Spotlight is going to a bulky goods site when they are a retail operation and will their compliance officer be investigating?"

Ray White Lismore agent Chris Harley said he was greatly concerned that the issues of high business rates was seeing the town lose investment and growth to Ballina.

"It's not about greedy landlords trying to money-grab, its time to have a serious look and do something about it," he said.

However, one issue is despite the many meetings and consultations, no business groups or individuals appeared to have made a written submission to .

Mr Deegan presented a chart comparing rates between Lismore, Ballina, Byron and Tweed.

He said he had undertaken research in regard to local government funding and said of the 109 councils in NSW, Lismore was third on the list of using all their own money for projects.

Mr Deegan said if the council needed more money the answer was not to bleed business owners dry, but to up its game to obtain better government funding.

"We are second from the bottom on getting grants," he said.

Cr Smith said he agreed business rates were too high in the CBD.

Cr Ekins argued against the motion and said she had not paid her own rates as she did not have the money.

Councillors discussed the fact if all residents were charged around 26 cents a week it would put a rate freeze on CBD business rates.

Meanwhile, the budget for 2018-19 was voted for by Cr Brid, Cr Cook, Cr Moorhouse, Cr Lloyd, Cr Ekins, Cr Guise and Cr Smith.

Council's manager of finance and governance, Rino Santin said delaying the decision until July "is new territory".

"So we need legal advice," he said.

"Council is obliged to adhere to its operation plan by 30 June... the intention is to get legal advice to see what council can change this."

In other business:

  • The Annual Community Grant Scheme was carried.
  • Senior citizens club application for subsidised rent was passed unanimously.
  • Nimbin Chamber of Commerce request for $11,500 for security cameras was carried unanimously.
  • Annual Mayor and Councillor Fees was carried.

Then Cr Ekins made an urgency motion from a group planning an excursion up north for the local Aboriginal women, the Ngalingah Mijung Dubai's to travel to an arts fair in Cairns was carried.

The meeting closed around 9.10pm for a confidential discussion.