Council puts FESA fight on the cards

THE Property Council of WA has launched a campaign to protest the increasing levies to which the property industry is subject under the recently introduced Fire & Emergency Services Authority (FESA) levy.

The council has mailed 5000 postcards to its members to be sent on to Police and Emergency Services Minister Michelle Roberts.

The postcards call on the Government to: cap FESA levy increases to the CPI; promise to maintain its existing contributions to emergency services funding; ensure local government returns savings to property owners; and guarantee that existing levy caps remain.

At this stage an offer by the peak property industry body to discuss the levy increases with Ms Roberts has not been taken up.

The Property Council of WA says the Government is moving away from the intent of the levy, which was touted as a replacement funding system, instead sucking millions of dollars from WA property owners to pay for regional services.

Under this new system, which is based on rental value, metropolitan and country retail property and commercial buildings are facing increased FESA levies.

Property Council of WA executive director Joe Lenzo said the postcard campaign would raise the awareness that the levy had become another tax burden on property owners.

“It puts the Government on notice and makes people understand that the levy is another tax on the property industry and is being used to rake in another $20 million,” he said.

“I wonder whether the minister is really aware of how great the increases are or whether she is just listening to the FESA management.”

According to Mr Lenzo, retail property owners had been hit the hardest, with many facing FESA levy increases of between 200 and 250 per cent.

“One shopping centre fire levy was $1350 under the insurance levy.  Under the new levy it is $100,000,” he said.

Mr Lenzo said the returns on insurance and local government charges would in no way compensate for the increase in the FESA levy.

One commercial property manager, who manages three properties on St Georges Terrace, told WA Business News his fire services levy had increased from $30,000 to $96,000 under the new regime. He calculated that the levy would increase to $150,000 next financial year.

Mr Lenzo said the increases would eventually flow back to small business.

“It is a huge impost on a system that the Government said would be a fairer system.”

FESA acting chief executive Bill Hewitt said the Property Council’s statements that the levy was being used to pay for an additional $19.7 million in capital works was misleading and a misinterpretation of the facts.

“FESA’s 2003-2004 capital works program is estimated at $12.7 million. This estimate is consistent with previous and future annual capital works,” he said.

Mr Hewitt said comparing how much a property owner used to contribute to the emergency services against their levy charge was an extremely complex task.

“To get an accurate comparison you need to consider how much the building owner was contributing through building insurance and local government rates, as well as how much each tenant contributed through their contents insurance,” he said.

“Making the task harder is that many insurance companies did not specify how much fire service levy was included on policies.”

Mr Hewitt said this inability to calculate how much was being contributed to the emergency services was one of the reasons the levy was introduced.

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