THE proposed environmental levy being investigated by Greater Taree City Council has potential spin-offs for local businesses and could be a major boost for the local economy.
The council is currently consulting with the community to determine its support for the introduction of a five per cent environmental levy, which could generate an annual amount of around $1.3 million to fund projects included in council's draft environmental action plan.
The levy could then be used as matching funding to potentially attract an additional $3.6 million through external grant programs.
This would result in a total boost to the local economy of nearly $5 million each year. This has been demonstrated by Great Lakes Council which has been able to almost triple its environmental rate since introducing it in 2001.
Wal Attard of Reflora Australia, an environmental contractor based in the Great Lakes local government area, said that since Great Lakes Council introduced its environmental levy, local work opportunities had increased so much that he has not had to advertise for years.
Wal added that the nature of his work changed for the better because "the levy provided council with a more strategic way of undertaking projects in that they could be better planned and implemented, rather than being rushed to meet often tight funding deadlines".
Wal added that the turnover for his business doubled within a year or two of the levy being introduced.
Contractors working in the local area are also supportive of the levy as they can see the potential for work to be generated locally.
One local contractor Dennis Jeffers of Oze ECO Management said, "It is amazing that locals don't know us, and that we are better known outside our local area. We have been in business for 15 years and employ 10 staff, but most of our work is outside the local area.
"People don't realise how much money could be spent locally if there were more local work opportunities, like the projects proposed to be funded by the environmental levy," he added.
Dennis described a recent trip to undertake a project at Coffs Harbour. "We took six staff to Coffs for work, where we spent money there on accommodation, meals, fuel and materials for the work. More local work opportunities will definitely bring more money back into the local economy."
Owners of the Dingo Creek Rainforest Nursery, Kim and Peter Gollan, said that the implementation of an environmental levy would greatly assist local business by creating better forward planning for projects.
"Our nursery grows plants for revegetation projects, with most of our stock grown on the hope that they will be required, with very little stock actually ordered in advance," Peter said.
"Being able to plan projects in advance will give local businesses more certainty and enable businesses like ours that require long lead times to be able to ensure that stock is available when required," he said.
"Our region is lucky in that we have both a high quality natural environment and skilled environmental experts," said Chris Scott of Sustainable Natural Resources Group.
"The Wingham Brush rainforest regeneration project was responsible for pioneering many of the bush regeneration techniques used today."
Chris said that contractors who have developed expertise locally end up doing much of their work outside the region, so the proposed environmental levy would enable more work to be completed locally. "Expecting volunteers to do the work for free is wearing thin and depleting the goodwill of our local volunteers," Chris said.
"The environmental levy would provide Greater Taree City Council the opportunity to take the burden off the volunteers by engaging local contractors to supplement their work and build their capacity to undertake local restoration projects."
"An environmental levy would not only result in more work for local businesses, but that the work would be more reliable allowing for greater local investment," according to Simon Skelton from Lower Mid North Coast Land Management Services.
"Regular, consistent work would provide more opportunities for the training and employment of young people, so they wouldn't have to leave our region to find a job.
"It is frustrating to hear from external funding bodies that they are keen to offer funding to Taree council but can't because council cannot often come up with the matching funding.
"The environmental levy will enable council to seek and obtain more grant funding so our region won't keep missing out on these opportunities," he said.