Pleading for livelihood

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Wakatipu sports clubs are pleading for changes to a proposed new leisure tax, claiming it threatens their viability and the livelihoods of coaches. 

Club coaches, volunteers and administrators are fuming at Queenstown Lakes District Council’s proposal to charge clubs on reserve land 7.5 per cent commission on gross turnover of food, bev­­erage and equip­­­ment sales.
QLDC also wants five per cent of coaches’ gross turnover. 

Among the worst hit would be tennis coaching duo Mark Milburn and Lan Bale. 

The pair last Friday told a submitters’ hearing – overseen by Queens­town councillors Cath Gilmour and Vanessa van Uden and Wanaka Community Board’s Jude Battson – they’d struggle to continue if the levies were introduced. 

“I’ve struggled to sleep because I don’t know if I’m going to have a business anymore,” Milburn says. 

As it is, he’s having to leave his wife and three young kids behind for a three-month winter coaching stint in Wales “just to make this work”. 

Milburn says it’s not fair to tax the two coaches 5 per cent from their gross turnover – roughly $120,000 com­­bined – and then deduct it from their much lower net earnings, averaging just above $20,000 each annually. 

Both coaches have done wonders for Queenstown tennis. On arrival seven years ago, their base – Queens­town Tennis Club in the Gardens – had grass growing through cracks in the courts. 

They were instrumental in raising $90,000 to help resurface the four playing surfaces and brokered an anonymous friend’s $60,000 donation to upgrade Wakatipu High courts. 

One of the best youngsters from their elite academy, Riki McLachlan, 18, is on a United States tennis scholarship. Younger brother Ben is in the world’s top 60 juniors. 

“I’d like to be commended for what we’ve achieved. Getting that [proposal] was just devastating.” 

Bale, a Davis Cup selector and former professional player, says: “A different council might be prepared to actually help us.” 

Councillor Gilmour told the two tennis coaches it isn’t a personal attack, saying: “It’s recognised you guys have done a huge amount. Obviously the policy has some work to be done.” 

Queenstown lawyer Tony Oxnevad – a promising junior player’s dad – says the coaches oversee club junior tennis, maintenance, and court bookings. 

“The thought you would then try to impose a charge on top, when they provide so many benefits, just staggers me.” 

Wakatipu Rugby Club spokesman Phil Wilson says commissions are inappropriate. 

“The only reason we undertake some commercial activities is to raise enough money to keep going.” 

Wakatipu Sports User Group spokesman Simon Spark called for a working group to investigate all sport and recreation facilities and funding. 

“The sports and recreation community has given a clear ‘no’ to the over-regulation and taxing of its members being proposed.” 

Queenstown Cricket Club president Ian Paterson says commissions will be an administrative nightmare and called for all ground-user charges to be free. 

Gilmour insists the policy isn’t a money-grabber but is about finding the fairest way to fund maintenance of community assets. 

Once draft rewrites are complete, it will be before councillors in June or July, she says.