Newcastle City Council has paid out less than 10 per cent of its $430,000 light rail relief fund, at an average of $400 per business.
The council introduced the program in July to help traders who had been affected by light rail construction in Hunter and Scott streets.
The scheme has paid out more than $37,000 to 95 businesses as a 50 per cent rebate on a city centre special rate which is levied on property owners to fund Newcastle Now.
The Newcastle Herald reported in August that Hunter Street cafe owner Murrie Harris had received $186 under the scheme, a fraction of the $10,000 he had borrowed to keep the business afloat.
Mr Harris said at the time that he did not blame the council and welcomed its efforts to help retailers.
The NSW government has refused to provide financial help to Newcastle traders.
The council said on its website on Tuesday that $400,000 – more than 10 times the amount paid out to date – was still available under its scheme.
“We understand that for many small businesses their bottom line has been impacted, and this rate relief was a way council could play a role in minimising the impact of light rail,” lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes said.
Cr Nelmes called on small businesses to apply for relief under the program if they had not done so already.
The issue of light rail relief has been a flashpoint between the council and Newcastle Now, its business improvement association.
Cr Nelmes said at a briefing in March that Newcastle Now had “dropped the ball” on business advocacy during light rail works and its chairman, Edward Duc, had been “talking the city down”.
Cr Nelmes gained approval for the council relief scheme as a late addition to the council’s 2018-19 budget in May. It was unclear if the rebate would affect Newcastle Now’s budget.
Newcastle Now chief executive Michael Neilson labelled the lord mayor’s plan “tokenistic”, and the following month Newcastle Now launched its own relief scheme without council approval.
The council then suspended Newcastle Now’s funding and launched an external investigation into whether it had been operating without submitting annual business plans, in breach of its funding agreement, an assertion Mr Duc rejects.
That investigation is ongoing.
It is understood the council is reviewing the operations of its other business improvement associations at Hamilton, Mayfield and Wallsend.
Meanwhile, the council’s city revitalisation coordinator, Tim Askew, has resigned, joining a host of staff to leave the organisation this year.
The Herald has been told Mr Askew is moving to the Hunter Joint Organisation of Councils.