Locals could be forgiven for scoffing at the idea of a cashed-up property developer asking for fee relief from Byron Council to help boost his profit margin.
But it appears that when Byron developer, Jason Dunn, came before Council last week complaining about fees for using Council land during construction, he may have had a point.
Mr Dunn has approval to build a three-storey mixed-used development with a rooftop pool and two underground parking areas on the corner of Jonson and Browning Streets, Byron Bay.
This controversial approval includes paying to use a Council road reserve next to the development for loading and unloading vehicles during construction.
Mr Dunn has already paid $193,050 for this privilege, and says that at the current rate he could end up forking out more than $500,000.
He came before Council last week asking for some of his money to be refunded on the grounds that the fees were ‘massively disproportionate’ when compared to other local councils.
‘I assure you that it gives me no pleasure to be pleading for a reduction in Council fees and charges,’ Mr Dunn said.
‘The amount of the charge is meant to be set by reference to other fees and charges set by similar councils and competitors.
‘But calculations show that when compared to the Ballina, Tweed, and Lismore councils, on average, the fees being charged by Byron Council are 574 per cent higher.
‘And they’re 240 per cent more expensive than the most expensive nearby council, being Tweed Shire.
‘I’m seeking a reduction to a level that is still in excess of the other nearby Local Government Areas.’
But Council staff disagreed, recommending that the fees not be reduced or refunded.
They said the development was using a large proportion of the frontage to Jonson and Browning Street for private purposes, which resulted in considerable disruption and inconvenience to the public.
They also warned that any reduction could set a precedent ‘for other developers to seek a refund or reduction in their fees and charges’.
When the matter was discussed at the Council meeting, it was confirmed that the fees in Byron were significantly higher than for neighbouring council areas.
However, the meeting also heard that there had been no objections from developers or community members when the fees schedule had been publicly exhibited alongside the Shire’s many other fees and charges.
Councillors were divided, engaging in a debate of more than 90 minutes on the issue.
This included two motions to defer the matter, pending investigations into Council’s fee structure by staff or the Local Government Ombudsman.
But both of these motions were defeated, as was a motion to refuse Mr Dunn’s application for a reduction.
The inability of councillors to reach a consensus position effectively meant that the status quo remained in place.
Mr Dunn will not receive any refund on his fees, and the current fee structure will remain in place unless, or until, a motion is passed to review it.