Rick Grinsell - owner of caravan park
Rick Grinsell - owner of caravan park

Two weeks ‘til bust: Caravan park sold out from under owner

IT WAS 1996 when Rick Williams moved to St George to start his dream --- but in two weeks' time the 52-year-old faces losing his business, his home and his livelihood.

"I have schooling up to grade six, I have no trade, I've been doing this for the last 20 years and this is all I know," Mr Williams said.

"I'm going to be homeless, unemployed and council couldn't care less."

Mr Williams owns Kapunda Fishing Park, a commercial camping caravan park 10km north of St George, in western Queensland, which sits on land that the council has been forced to auction due to outstanding debt on rates.

Debts that Mr Williams claims council has caused.

"Since I've been a child, I have wanted to build a riverfront caravan park," Mr Williams said.

"I moved to St George in 1996, from there we bought a 40 acre property 10km out of town in 1998. We rezoned the block and became a commercially registered caravan park and started trading in 2001.

"From 2001 we started with one camper and in 2010 we had 1300 campers annually."

In 2013, the Balonne Shire Council started to facilitate and implement free camping areas throughout the Shire including Nindigully, Thallon, Bollon and Dirranbandi.

It was from that then that Mr Williams said his business was jeopardised.

"In the last 10 years, my income has gone from $150,000 turnover to $86,000," Mr Williams said.

"I'm going to go bust, I turned over $86,000 this year and it costs me $70,000 to run it. The council told me they are going to sell me up in the next couple of months - so I can't hold on.

"I have an outstanding debt of $26,000 that I owe council, they have given me a notice of intention to auction my land and will start the procedures within 90 days.

"I've been paying rates of $4500 for the last 20 years.

"My property is mortgaged to the Commonwealth Bank, I've had appraisals from caravan brokers for more than $800,000 and yet the council are happy to sell me up so they can collect $26,000.

"Free camping should have never come into the Shire, no one can compete against something for free."

Balonne Shire mayor Richard Marsh said no organisation, neither council enjoyed the situation where they had to collect debts that could have disastrous effects on the owner involved.

"We deal with rate payers all the time, and unfortunately there are times when people fall under risk for any number of reasons," Cr Marsh said.

"Council levy the rates and charges over the rateable properties because we are responsible to deliver the services and facilities to the community.

"That's part of the revenue that we need to deliver those services.

"There is a process that we need to go through, and it is pretty well set out in legislation and none of these decisions are taken lightly.

"We are selling a property which is obviously at a disadvantage to the owner but from the point of view from the community we have to take the actions that are available to us. We have to do the best we can to keep our community operational and serviceable and that's where we rely on rates."

Cr Marsh said free camping was not brought in by council, rather it was something that developed, grew and in turn has injected direct benefits in local businesses.

"For example, in Nindigully they have access to the Nindigully Hotel, where they eat and drink there and in Bollon they go up the creek and go through the Heritage Centre, the local cafe or go to the hotel for a night meal.

"All the research that we see, shows these people are looking for low cost camping and they see commercial parks as being a total different consumer market and this is a situation where different people are seeking different experiences.

"They see it as saving money on the big vehicle they are towing and don't want to be cramped in an area that's worse than suburbia, so you have to be mindful of their point of view.

"From our point of view we want to see them in town or close to town using our businesses and our caravan parks who rely on that income and we are certainly not trying to do anything that would interfere with their viability.

"Demand indicates there has to be some give and take all around."

Maranoa Meats Butcher Shop owner Paul Arnall, who has been operating in St George for the past 10 years, said you want tourists stopping in town, not passing through.

"Business wise it's a bit like people coming from out of town and selling meat in town, it doesn't leave a good taste in the mouth," Mr Arnall said.

"We need to support local first, otherwise there are going to be no businesses.

"I think an overflow policy would be far more beneficial than turning straight to free camping.

"We benefit having them in town, we put all our advertising in the commercial caravan parks and it all follows on."

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