MORE than $960,000 in support will be provided to businesses and community groups in Bass Coast, seriously impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bass Coast Shire Council will implement its COVID-19 Business and Community Response and Recovery package, after it was unanimously supported by Councillors at Wednesday’s Council Meeting.

However, while there’s an offer of business and community grants for the most affected and a chance to avoid fees and charges, there’s no rate relief or rate deferral being offered at this stage.

Cr Stephen Fullarton asked council to consider rate relief and providing access for business to the shire’s hardship provisions immediately.

“It’s something we need to look at because many, many of our businesses, particularly on the Island, have such a huge reliance on tourism which has simply stopped,” said Cr Fullarton.

“Our biggest worry when this is over is that the tourists will return, but we simply won’t have the facilities to service them,” he said.

The Mayor Cr Brett Tessari promised council would look at it.

“Council is looking at all options at the moment so over the next week or so, we’ll be looking with our financial team at all options that we can do. That has been one option that has been thrown around considerably by the community, especially by the business community so we will look at it but we are looking at a range of measures,” Cr Tessari said.

For now, the council has provided a support package that builds on the existing support provided by Council and State and Federal governments and aims to ease the cash flow pressures of local businesses and community groups.

It includes support for small business operators such as waiving of a number of permit fees for 2019/20, lease payment relief for businesses operating from Council premises and a $700,000 Business and Community Resilience Grants Program.

The Grants Program, which is currently under development, will be overseen by the Bass Coast Community Leadership Recovery Group. These quick response grants will reflect the immediate needs of applicants. Community organisations, businesses and individuals will be able to apply for grants.

Cr Tessari said that in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Council is committed to supporting businesses and the local community.

“The rapid escalation of COVID-19 and measures to contain its spread have led to widespread disruption and hardship to businesses and the community overall,” Cr Tessari said.

“While there are numerous Federal and State government support measures in place, due to its close connection with the local community, Council has been focused on introducing additional measures targeted specifically to support local businesses and the community.”

This is an initial response or first phase that Council can deliver to hundreds of businesses and community groups across the Shire. There is likely to be a second phase, to offer further support.

The estimated cost of these initial measures is $965,000, which will be offset by projected savings of $725,000, achieved by deferring or discontinuing various Council projects for the remainder of the financial year.

Cr Les Larke also called on council to consider an initial contribution of at least $3 million to the response fund, which he believed was readily recoverable from improving the efficiency of the council’s operations.

Ultimately, however, this could involve a reduction in staff numbers.

“We have identified budget savings from activities that will no longer be occurring such as grants for events that are cancelled, as well as prioritised projects and other expenditure to establish funding to implement the Plan,” Cr Tessari said.

The package has been developed through consultation with local businesses and community groups. Council’s Business Support Team has spoken to over 160 local businesses over the past two weeks to check in and gauge what they need most.

“It’s important to acknowledge that this package also builds on our existing support services, which we will continue to provide to the highest degree,” Cr Tessari said.

The Business Support Team will continue to distribute and communicate important information via their Business E-newsletters, social media, phone calls and networks. This service helps businesses to understand and access funding support, training opportunities and build capacity and resilience.

Community members financially impacted by COVID-19 can continue to access rate relief through Council’s Financial Hardship Policy.

For up to date information on the support Council is providing during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit www.basscoast.vic.gov.au/covid19.