Bridgetown ratepayers struggling to pay their rates because of the coronavirus pandemic can at least look forward to sympathetic treatment from the Shire of Bridgetown-Greenbushes.

The shire has introduced flexible rate payments for the coming financial year and removed the administration fees for those paying over four instalments, while also reducing the interest charge from 5.5% to 2.75%.

The penalty interest for late payment of the current year’s rates has been waived.

“We will also refrain from actively pursuing unpaid rates that are not on the instalment option or a payment plan until 31 December 2020.  This does not mean that these debts will be written off, but it does mean that people will have more time, and I hope less stress, around making their payments” said Shire president John Nicholas.

And in further good news there will be no rate increase for ratepayers for the coming year and no increase in fees and charges.

The moves come at an estimated cost of $330,000 for the Shire.

Shire CEO Tim Clynch said that with careful management and financial help from the Federal Government there should be no long-term impact on service delivery for residents and businesses.

The Federal Government’s $460,000 stimulus package and $1 million worth of drought assistance has lessened the pandemic’s financial impact.

The staff have also played a role.

“I’m pleased to say that the staff have all agreed to a wage freeze in 2020/21,” Mr Clynch said.

“That was a proposal that was put to them and they voted on it and I’m really pleased to say they accepted it, so that helps to some degree,” he said.

Business help

Businesses, too, will be given some financial relief.

Alfresco dining fees and registration and surveillance fees for 2019/20 will be refunded and the fees for next financial year will be waived.

The Visitor Centre’s administration fee for cancelled bookings will also be waived and Centre memberships discounted by half.

Similarly, the Shire is waiving fees for extensions of planning approvals and building permits through to June 30, 2021.

The move to hold down rates and fees is a recognition that many residents and businesses have been doing it tough.

Services

At the height of the pandemic services were cut-back in the face of government health restrictions, with the library and recreation centre closed.

Those restrictions are now lifting, with the library and Visitor’s Centre reopening and limited access to the gym between 3pm and 8pm, when an attendant is present.

“We’ve had feedback from users that 3-8 doesn’t obviously suit everyone so we’re now looking at the cost to us to bring in a morning shift,” said Shire CEO, Tim Clynch.

“The issue is that since we closed the gym we haven’t been charging gym membership fees, so we’ve suspended everyone’s membership and said when we reopen we’ll reset your membership from the period it was closed.”

The question for the Council is that with people paying for 24-hour attendance at what point do they say memberships are back? The council cannot afford to pay for an attendant 24 hours/day, said Mr Clynch.

The Shire is now looking at demand for the Leisure Centre’s activities and how they’re going to meet it.

Mr Clynch said that apart from the Leisure Centre, the skate park and the playgrounds, the loss of services, even at the height of the pandemic, was minimal. After a risk assessment the Shire even managed to keep the office open, which was quite unusual.

“I think the community appreciated that the office was open,” he said.

He expects those services to continue more-or-less as normal and there have been no staff reductions.

He’s impressed by the way local businesses responded to the crisis and how the community supported local businesses through the worst of it.

“The community spirit never changes in Bridgetown,” he said.