Rates ‘blackmail’

THE Bayswater Bowling and Recreation Club is challenging a $19,000 rates bill owed to Bayswater council, claiming it was blackmailed into signing an unfair lease.

Club president Mark Cameron told the June 25 council meeting “we signed that lease under duress” and as a result it should be considered “null and void”.

In 2016, after 11 years without a formal lease, the club started a major $124,000 program to install synthetic turf, with the council promising to pitch in $72,000.

Mr Cameron said when the works had already started, council staff turned up with a new lease that included charges for rates and the emergency services levy.

“It’s fair to say that in the end, the City of Bayswater gave us an ultimatum, and said ‘if you don’t sign the lease we won’t release the $72,000 payment’ for their part of the bowling green replacement,” Mr Cameron said.

“We went away from the meeting convinced that all sporting clubs would end up having to pay rates.”

But this April the council adopted a new policy excluding “community” groups from paying rates if they were leasing council property, effectively restoring the status quo.

But BBRC is stuck with eight years left on its lease and has to cough up nearly $10,000 a year.

Mr Cameron said that’s unfair on the club when other non-profits don’t have to pay and asked for a new lease, though staff urged councillors to take a tough line in case other rate-paying groups also started asking for relief.

Confusing

Councillor Lorna Clarke moved to defer the item because of too many unanswered questions.

Cr Clarke said the city’s legal position needed clarification, especially given the allegations of duress. She hoped the council could avoid being in dispute with a local club.

The quandary will likely reappear at the August council meeting.

Bowls club vice president Mark Doyle told the Voice the rates bill was a “significant impediment” to carrying out improvements at the club.

“Over $9000 per annum is quite a significant amount of money for a not-for-profit club that’s run entirely by volunteers.

“It reduces our ability to advance the club, but it won’t kill us because we’re working very hard to try to generate funds.”

We put the claims of the duress to the council.

CEO Andrew Brien said: “In 2016 the Bayswater Bowling Recreation Club approached the city for a contribution of $72,000 towards synthetic turf for a new bowling green. At this time the club was operating from a city-owned facility without a lease.”

It had expired in 2005.

“Council formally considered the matter and resolved a peppercorn lease was to be put in place to provide some certainty for community members who use the facility. In addition to the peppercorn lease payment the club was required to pay rates and other outgoings associated with the site.”

He said the city couldn’t have preempted the new policy giving community clubs rates exemptions.

He noted even the rates-free clubs still have to pay utilities and the emergency services levy.

by DAVID BELL

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