AFTERMATH: The fire at Big River Timbers in November has led to the company calling on the council for help.
AFTERMATH: The fire at Big River Timbers in November has led to the company calling on the council for help.

Big River Timbers wants rate relief after fire

CLARENCE Valley ratepayers could be asked to chip in up to $50,000 to help out a long-term local business keep its head above water.

At yesterday's Clarence Valley Council's Corporate, Governance and Works committee meeting a recommendation was passed that council help Big River Timbers out with its rates and water consumption bills as it recovers from a massive fire that severely damaged its Junction Hill factory on November 5.

The fire caused more than $20 million in damage and led to the factory standing down about half its workforce for more than a year while it repairs the damage.

The report to the meeting indicated the Big River Group has asked council for financial assistance by way of relief from rates and water charges for the next year.

The report said the fire and the loss of 45 jobs would also inflict a $49.3 million loss on the local economy and could lead to the loss of 84 jobs in related local businesses.

Council officers recommended entering into an interest free loan with the company for its rates and water until the end of 2016.

But Cr Jason Kingsley was not satisfied. His motion called on council to advertise its intention to grant assistance up to $50,000 by way of rates and water charge relief.

But to receive the assistance the company must agree to restore its workforce to the level it was the week before the fire.

Cr Kingsley said council should support the company because it has been a corporate citizen for a long time and this would support the local economy, which he claimed was "shot".

He said before Christmas seven businesses shut down in Grafton and he knew of two more closing in coming weeks.

"I don't want to be sitting here doing nothing. I don't want to be part of that," Cr Kingsley said.

"I want to do something to keep this local economy going. If we're not going to support this, I'm going to pull up stumps, take my bat and ball and go home."

However, not all councillors were as generous.

Cr Karen Toms spoke against the motion, claiming it was unfair to ratepayers for council to gift $50,000 to a company, no matter how deserving it was.

Cr Jim Simmons supported the motion, pointing to council decision several years ago to provide assistance to a trucking company seeking to get B-double access into South Grafton.

"I can well remember an amount of $200,000 was talked about at that time," Cr Simmons said.

The Mayor Richie Williamson was also in favour of the motion, but said there might be a need to make some amendments when it went before the full council next week.

He said it might be better for the Big River Group to know an exact percentage of its rates and water charges rather than just have an amount up to $50,000 to work with.

The Mayor said it was also a chance for council to do something for business.

"In the past we've been a bit of a free kick for people who want to say the council does nothing to support local business," the mayor said.

"Well, here is a chance to us to do something to help a business survive."



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