Rates Decisions to Come
The Hurunui District Council is assessing how the district’s rates will be impacted by COVID-19 and working on solutions for residents that maintain essential services.
Council continues to work hard maintaining many essential services for the district and these services rely on rates. These include ensuring households have safe drinking water, that the waste water system keeps operating, rubbish is collected, burials and cemeteries are maintained, essential roading and safety repairs are made, emergency services (Civil Defence) are on hand and many other critical areas of service.
However, we understand that many residents and businesses have been financially impacted by COVID-19 and decisions around rates need to reflect this.
Some relief is already available to residents and the Hurunui rates discussion can be summarised into three topics: 1) what is being done immediately 2) what can be done in the short term and 3) what can be done in the long term.
1) What is being done immediately?
Council is working to help those in extreme hardship and struggling with rates. Anyone who is experiencing this is being asked to reach out to council. Residents that have communicated their hardship and come to an arrangement with council will be offered relief where possible. To talk to council about your upcoming rates email email@example.com.
Mayor Marie Black explained the council is here to help and relies on residents communicating. “As a council it is really important that our community know our door is always open and feel encouraged to contact us - so that we can, in turn, offer help and support,” she said. “We would like residents to feel confident that they can ring us for support and guidance whenever they may need us.”
2) What can be done in the Short-Term?
The council is in the process of developing a policy for delaying rates payments. The policy will be for those experiencing financial hardship related to COVID-19 who will struggle to pay rates.
A draft Policy for the Deferment of Rates went to the 9th of April council meeting and is being further refined to suit the district’s rate payers and council feedback.
However, action is already being taken and late payment penalties will not apply to those who have made arrangements with us based on extreme hardship.
Mayor Black reiterated that deferment is a short term solution for those in dire need. “The deferment policy gives a window of relief and time to allow the wheels to start turning again,” she said. “This council has a long history of developing policy that reflects immediate need and provides relief for rate payers. The deferment policy is an enabler for residents to seek support from us”
The resolution from the council meeting on the Policy for the Deferment of Rates was as follows:
“That the council agrees that no penalties will be applied to deferred rates installments for the last quarter of the current financial year, for those ratepayers that have communicated with the council regarding deferment on the basis of hardship.
That the council requests that the chief financial officer report back to the 30 April 2020 council meeting with a refined policy for adoption, on the basis of the council discussion today.”
3) What can be done Long-Term?
The Hurunui District Council annually makes decisions about rates increases and that decision has come due. The council is currently scruitinising its budgets to see what changes would reduce or eliminate any potential rates increase. This could include delaying projects and/or reducing spending to bring any upcoming rates increases to as low a level as possible.
“What councillors are seeking is a firm analysis of the budget to base the rate setting decision on,” Mayor Black said. “Anything we do to make significant reductions for the ratepayer will need to allow our business to continue serving the community’s needs,” she said. “Households and businesses are cutting costs and it’s only fair that we apply the same level of scrutiny, cutting the cloth to fit the new economic reality.”
The resolution from the council meeting on potential rates increases was as follows:
“That the council requests that two annual plan budget modelling options be presented to the 30 April 2020 council meeting, those being a zero rates increase and a 3.59% increase.
That analysis be provided regarding what changes would be required for each option (and movement between the two options) with respect to debt and impact on services, as well as a review of the capital programme in terms of what are essential and non-essential projects and their timing.”
The community is very much at the centre of the council’s decision making process and further updates about council services relating for COVID-19 will continue to be provided.