Last year's fire at Big River Timber has led to the business requesting help from Clarence Valley Council.
Last year's fire at Big River Timber has led to the business requesting help from Clarence Valley Council.

Council's $15k boost to aid firm

CLARENCE Valley Council has either "gifted" $15,000 to a local business or it has provided "conditional financial assistance" to one of the Valley's biggest employers.

Either way Big River Timbers will receive $15,000 of assistance from the council to help it recover from the November 5 fire, which caused more than $20 million damage and forced the company to stand down almost half the workers at its Junction Hill factory.

Earlier this year Big River Timber managing director Jim Bindon wrote to the council seeking financial assistance from council through relief from rates and water consumption charges for the next 12 months.

At Tuesday's council meeting council staff revealed the water charges

amounted to more than $100,000 a year, with rates about $5000 a year.

In lengthy and sometimes fiery debate council set about refining Cr Jason Kingsley's original motion to offer the Big River Group (BRG) up to $50,000 as relief from rates and water charges for the remainder of 2014-15 and 2015-16.

The offer was conditional on BRG maintaining the same number of employees at the end of 2016 as it had at the plant at the end of October 2014.

Deputy mayor Andrew Baker made his view clear, immediately introducing an amendment that council should hand out $50,000 to any "battling business" that wrote to it requiring assistance. Cr Karen Toms seconded it.

Cr Baker said the proposal to give $50,000 to businesses doing it tough had proved a popular topic of conversation in the "backyard brains trusts of Townsend".

"They took great delight in thinking anyone doing it tough could write to council and get $50,000," he said.

This amendment was rejected, with Cr Baker voting against it.

Mayor Richie Williamson was more circumspect, with an amendment to reduce the assistance to $15,000.

"In my view this is the council doing its bit to support 45 mums and dads and families who, because of no fault of their own, no longer have a job," he said.

He also noted councils had backed businesses in the Clarence Valley before, including water charge relief for the Grafton Abattoirs in 2000.

The new boy on the council, Cr Arthur Lysaught, said it was appropriate to be generous to a major employer.

"I would make it a direct gift. The majority of the Clarence Valley applaud supporting at least one of bigger business doing it a bit tough," he said.

Cr Karen Toms said the "gift" was not equitable and was unlikely to give any real relief to the company.

In Cr Margaret McKenna's view the motion did not tie down details like the identity of the employer, how the relief would be delivered and how the staff would administer it.

Cr Kingsley wrapped up the debate saying the motion was to support jobs in the Clarence Valley that if lost would have a flow-on effect of costing the region $49 million.

The motion was passed six votes to three.

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