More than a month after Victoria’s coronavirus-induced lockdown, some Oakleigh businesses, including Greek traders, are still negotiating with banks, landlords and government over loan repayments, rents and rates. But the Oakleigh Village and Traders Association (OVTA) president and owner of Kentro restaurant in Eaton Mall, Anna Sfrantzis, said although business was bad, things were being done to ease the financial burden.
“They should get at least 50 per cent off rents,” Ms Sfrantzis said. “All of the traders are struggling.”
Ms Sfrantzis encouraged landlords and tenants, each facing their own financial pressures to negotiate and come up with solutions eg. tenants paying 50 per cent now and the other 50 per cent in 24 months time, etc. As president of the OVTA, she has already invited traders to see her with their concerns or the council regarding council issues.
The association represents 360 businesses in Oakleigh of which about half are Greek, and it stands as a conduit between traders and Monash Council. The businesses represented by the organisation are situated in a wide geographical area around Oakleigh and range from professionals, IT, retail and restaurants.
When Neos Kosmos visited Oakleigh’s large strip shopping area on Thursday, 30 April, from 1pm to 5pm, traders who did not want to be named said some banks were not being lenient on repayments and Monash Council was not being lenient with rate fees. They said they were still in discussion with both the bank and the council to work out a solution. Other traders said nothing had changed since the start of the lockdown regarding securing rent relief, and they were still locked in discussion with real estate agents. Some traders said the Federal Government’s Jobkeeper payment of $750 per week for every employee was not what it seemed and the payment had to come first from the employer’s own money.
Ms Sfrantzis said most landlords would have paid the last instalment for 2019-2020 council rates by now with the 2020-2021 not yet issued.
For the balance for 2019-2020 rates and next year’s rates, Monash Council is deferring payment without penalty interest.
In written responses to questions by Neos Kosmos, Monash Council Mayor Stuart James said it was a difficult time for ratepayers and the council was there to support them. He encouraged commercial ratepayers to also access federal and state government support.
“Council has not yet made a decision on waivers of rate payments,” Mr James said.
“The deferment scheme has been heavily subscribed to already with many ratepayers (residential and commercial) taking advantage of the deferment for the fourth instalment for 2019/2020”.
He said this in effect meant a 14-15 month deferral for commercial ratepayers.
Mr James would not say if commercial rates would decrease for the 2020/2021 year.
“Council will consider all financial impacts of COVID-19 when it drafts the 2020/2021 annual budget,” he said.
Mr James said he encouraged all traders to contact the council directly to discuss their circumstances and to subscribe to the council’s newsletter, while adding that the council also had campaigns to improve business.
Ms Sfantzis said Monash Council was helping out with fees through initiatives such as the suspension of footpath trading fees (outdoor seating) from 1 March or issuing refunds.
When Neos Kosmos spoke to Ms Sfantzis she was waiting to get the Federal Government’s Jobkeeper payment on 4 May, and had four days until 8 May, to repay workers. She said the pay period was 25 March to 8 May.
She said Oakleigh shops were multicultural and included Greek, Korean and Japanese-style shops with businesses feeding of each other to bring in business. As such, she added that it would be beneficial for trading rules to open up a little while she also expressed gratitude for customers coming in. “They don’t have to stay at home,” she said.
“They can came here. They just can’t sit outside.”
Ms Sfrantzis said Kentro had lost 99 per cent of its trade.
“Of course,” she said. “I’m selling just coffee and biscuits. What about the rest of the business? There is no trade with wine, meals.”
Neos Kosmos reported on 30 March that traders were asking for rent and land tax relief in the wake of the federal government’s crippling trading restrictions designed to stop the spread of coronavirus. The paper also reported that landlords didn’t want to see their shops vacant, with most willing to negotiate rent relief measures.
- Anna Sfrantzis has proposed a meeting of all Oakleigh traders to discuss their concerns and is calling for registration of interests by visiting her restaurant (Kentro, 27-29 Easton Mall, Oakleigh)
MONASH COUNCIL MAYOR STUART JAMES RESPONDS TO QUESTIONS BY NEOS KOSMOS
Monash Council is offering rate payment deferral for landlords without penalty interest on final instalments for 2019-2020. As business is so bad, dropping by 90 per cent or non-existent, can this final instalment be heavily reduced or waived instead?
Council has not yet made a decision on waivers of rate payment. The deferment scheme has been heavily subscribed to already with many ratepayers (residential and commercial) taking advantage of the deferment for the 4th instalment for 2019/20 giving ratepayers an opportunity to defer this cost (and for commercial operators, a business cost) for some 14-15 months. While we understand the pressures businesses are under, Council must continue to provide essential services such as bin collections, immunisations and road maintenance, and the overwhelming majority of our income is sourced from rates. The Federal and State Governments have announced support packages to assist business.
The 2020-2021 rates can also be deferred. But it will take a while for business to pick up once restrictions are eased. Can commercial rates be decreased for 2020-2021 year?
As with the 2019/20 rates, at this stage, the deferment scheme is available for the 2020/21 rates and charges. We know this is a difficult time for many of our ratepayers and we are here to support them. Council is working to help ratepayers who are experiencing difficulties due to the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic as it impacts lives and businesses and the changes to our hardship policy are designed to support our community at this time.
While Council has reduced its operating costs at its aquatic and leisure centres, and closed other public facilities such as libraries, halls and golf courses in line with restrictions,these facilities are mostly funded from fee-paying clients so our revenues have also been significantly restricted.
Council will consider all financial impacts of COVID-19 when drafting the 2020/21 Annual Budget as well as continue to support the community.
Footpath trading fees have been suspended/ refunded. What relief is council offering businesses with other fees for things like business registration, licences, footpath signs?
We are encouraging traders to utilise the help available to them via the State and Federal Governments and we also encourage any trader to contact us directly to discuss their circumstances. Our Economic Development team is also working hard to ensure businesses know what support is available to them. We’d encourage businesses to subscribe to the team’s newsletter here: https://www.monash.vic.gov.au/Business/Publications/First-for-Business-e-news
We’ve just launched an online business directory so the community can continue to support their local traders. We know that many business have changed their trading practices to comply with the government restrictions, but are also continuing to operate and we want to support their great efforts in working through these challenging times. We’ll be promoting ourBack our Businesses – Shop Local campaign through our publications, newsletters, online and social media and posters around the municipality. Businesses can register here: https://www.monash.vic.gov.au/Business/Back-Our-Businesses-Shop-Local
Oakleigh businesses have to fill-in COVID-19 hardship assistance forms for rate and fee relief. This is more work for them. Is there simpler, faster way?
We’ve made the process as quick as we can, balancing the need for a streamlined process with having the information we need to assess applications. We have received around 400 applications in under 10 days and the majority of these have been approved within a few days. The process takes around 5 minutes to complete so we think it’s as simple as we can make it. We have also made an undertaking to advise the ratepayer within 14 days of the application of the application acceptance. We encourage traders to contact us directly if they have any questions.