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Wollongong outdoor fitness operators unhappy at City Council ‘sweat taxes’
Fitness businesses conducting outdoor classes in the Illawarra are continuing to object to plans by Wollongong City Council to increase annual fees for the use of parks, reserves and beaches by up to 50%.
The Council's Draft Annual Plan 'Draft Revenue Policy, Fees & Charges 2013-2014' proposes to increase the annual fees for fitness services using parks and beaches by more than $1,600 for some of the larger fitness organisations, which will have to pay up to $5,000 to train large groups in the Council's open spaces.
Fearing that the Council's proposed rises would cripple many small fitness operators, Summit Fitness Studio’s Simone Campbell has presented the Council with a petition of 500 signatures opposing the fee increases was presented.
Having presented the petition, Campbell told the Illawarra Mercury "Council is proposing an increase of up to 50% on top of what are already considered extreme rates by national standards."
Campbell highlighted that her classes targeted lower-income families who could not afford expensive gyms, and higher fees would put services out of reach of many people and organisations, adding "the Illawarra is out of alignment with the rest of Australia.
"I don't oppose paying a fee for the use of public spaces ... I am just asking the council to reconsider ... in the interest of health and wellbeing."
Campbell compared her business with an operator of a similar sized business in Rushcutters Bay which would pay $275 for a two-year lease, pointing out "you are asking me to pay $1,613 annually (when) I already pay $1240 annually."
The Illawarra Mercury has also reported the objections of other fitness businesses to the planned fee rises.
Savvy Fitness Direcor Angela Saville told the newspaper "we have never had an issue with paying the fees but are astounded that Council can propose a 48% increase in these fees when across all other council fees and charges there is a maximum of 5%.
"We make every effort to adhere to public space issues and consider it a crucial part of our operations. We are just interested to know how the additional revenue is used."
Saville said commercial fitness operators were working together to comply with regulations "so as not to disturb the public and ensure that our activities cause minimal disruption to the general public", adding "most services on average operate in the parks at a maximum of three hours a day, generally early morning and evening.
"These businesses have overheads like any other business, leasing separate office and work spaces, vehicles, equipment, paying quality professional trainers, staff and all other common expenses. Considering other councils don't charge fees there are some questions to be answered.
"We are interested to know how the Council came up with a 'market price'."
The Illawarra Mercury also used Kickstart Fitness to show how the fees would impact on fitness businesses, referring to owner Peter Gollop who runs exercise groups for up to 18 people at Lang Park on the Wollongong shore.
Under the Council's draft plan, his fees will rise almost 40% to $2,500 a year - an increase Gollop said could be crippling for fitness providers.
He explained "I'm not a large business, I'm just a sole trader so that's a big chunk of cash straight out of my wallet."
Gollop said he was happy to pay a fee to use public grounds for his business, but did not understand how costs were calculated or why they needed to rise, adding "there is no justification for what they're charging because it's not like they have to clean the parks or do extra lawn mowing because we're there."
Council Manager Commercial Projects and Property Peter Coyte claimed that the planned increases would bring fitness trainer fees into line with market pricing, telling the Illawarra Mercury "the costs associated with independent fitness trainers using grounds and equipment provided by the council for the general public is proposed to be set at market pricing."
The Council, which has traditionally offered free use of several of it swimming pools, subsidised its pools at a cost of $3.5 million in the last financial year.
Consultants are currently conducting a review of these services but have been told not to consider introducing fees for these services.
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