Some Hamilton traders are calling for the city's special business rate to be scrapped after struggling to meet the demands of Newcastle council's new funding scheme for promotional activities.
Janice Jones, who owns July Jones Style Studio in Beaumont Street, said she had given up on the council's online application form after realising how much work was involved.
Ms Jones, a Hamilton Chamber of Commerce director, and three other traders had hoped to apply for $4000 to run the retail precinct's annual Christmas promotion.
"I've started it. I'm not going to pursue it," Ms Jones said. "Being a sole trader working in my business ... it's just way too complicated.
"I had to submit a marketing plan, I had to submit a project plan with time frames and milestones and how I was going to evaluate the process on the day of the event."
The council told the Newcastle Herald it had received 46 applications for funding after calling for expressions of interest in the four precincts, Hamilton, Wallsend, New Lambton and the CBD, where the levy exists.
It would not say how many applications it had received in each precinct.
The council is overhauling the $1.34 million business levy scheme after commissioning a series of reviews in the past year. The changes include a ban on the Hamilton chamber and Newcastle Now applying for money due to "breaches" of previous funding agreements.
The traders who spoke to the Newcastle Herald said they were concerned about the future of events such as Carnivale and China Week in Hamilton.
It is understood the council has approached the Carnivale event organiser directly to run the festival again in 2020, but Ms Jones said its future was unclear.
"Carnivale takes months and months of planning," Ms Jones said. "We're now six weeks into the new financial year and the planning for Carnivale would have already started now.
"It's very frustrating to think that it may not happen again, ever."
The council has said new BIAs will form in Hamilton and the CBD, but traders are unsure who will form these new organisations.
Ms Jones said she was not aware of a new BIA being formed to replace the Hamilton chamber.
"We all really do hope that somebody picks up where we left off and forms a new BIA, and then we can just carry on," she said.
"The people I've spoken to are not interested.
"Everyone's concerned about what's going to happen to the funds. It's a legislative requirement that the funds are spent in the area, but who's going to do that? Who's going to manage it?
"I know several of us have asked what happens with it if there isn't a BIA, and I don't think anybody's had an answer at this stage."
James Cobb, who owns Total Balance Chiropractic in Hamilton, said he would like to see the business levy scrapped.
"Just take the levy away and put us all back on a even playing field," he said.
"I think the local businesses would do a better job of it than having to filter it all through the bureaucracy at council."
Mr Cobb, who is a chamber member but is not on the board, agreed that applying for levy funds was too complicated.
"I've looked at the application forms myself. They're about nine pages long. I pretty easily handled my DA application when I started my business. I feel I'd get lost in the paperwork for the applications.
"The amount of detail and planning required from small business owners or volunteer community groups, people just don't have the time and energy, especially for something that's not directly profiting their business."
He said traders were unsure how or if events such as Carnivale and China Week would go ahead.
"The China Week festival, which has run for the last few years, planning for that had well and truly started by this time last year. There's no word on that event, so it looks like that's gone .
"None of us have heard any word on Carnivale."
He questioned whether the council would receive enough applications to cover the estimated $130,000 it collected in levy funds in Hamilton each year.
The new funding model places a $15,000 cap on applications for each event or beautification project in Hamilton.
"I've asked specifically what's going to happen to the funds that are left over if they're not all allocated, and no one's given me an answer," Mr Cobb said.
"I'm paying an extra grand a year in rates that the guy around the corner from me doesn't pay.
"And I've got no say now in how those funds are spent and no one's able to give me any information on how they will be spent."
Kellie Mann, of Lotus Fashion, had hoped to apply with Ms Jones for the Christmas promotion funding.
"At the end of the day we looked at it and thought the hoops you have to jump through to get whatever you can get, we're better off just going to all the shop owners and saying, 'Can we all put in so much each and we'll just do the activities that we were doing,'" she said.
"You're a small business. Your time is very precious. So for me to sit down and do the paperwork and applications expected of me, it's just taking up so much of your business time.
"We're all chasing the money right now. Times are very, very tough. I've been in business 20 years. You've got to put more time into your business now."
She said the business levy was pointless if "we can't get to it because of what we have to do".
"Fair enough, the council has said we've got people who will support you and work with you, admin staff, but we didn't have to do that before.
"We're going to lose Carnivale. That brought so many people to Hamilton. It was massive. Who's going to be doing that now? No small business owner that I know who's in Beaumont Street. We are battling."
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