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Council Considers Waiving Late Fees For Residents Stung By Coronavirus

Marlborough residents and businesses struggling from the economic impacts of coronavirus could get some relief on their rates bills, as the region records a steep jump in late payments.

The Marlborough District Council agreed on Thursday to waive late fees on its rates bill next month, set down for June 10.

These ratepayers would also be eligible for a lower late fee of 5 per cent, down from the usual 10 per cent, if they paid this year's final rates installment after the June 30 deadline, but before July 20.

People who owed rates from or before the March bill would have an extra 20 days - or until July 20 - to pay their outstanding bills or make a payment plan with the council, or be stung with a full late fee.

The decision still has to be adopted at full a council meeting on May 14.

Council financial services manager Chris Lake said in a report presented at a virtual meeting the new measures gave ratepayers some breathing space, but still encouraged them to pay their bills.

"It is very appropriate in these unprecedented times for [the] council to look and see whether there are other ways of assisting ratepayers."

At the start of lockdown, on March 26, the number of late rates fees in Marlborough was up 19 per cent compared to the same time last year. About $88,000 was owed in fees, compared to $74,000 last March.

People who owed rates from before the March bill were not eligible for the waivers, as Covid-19 was not the cause of their struggle, she said.

"These ratepayers get behind over the whole year and sometimes longer than that. These are also often repeat offenders ... " she said.

Councillor Mark Peters said the decision was "really worthwhile".

"That's really going to help our ratepayers," he said.

Chief financial officer Martin Fletcher said it was the "fairest" option.

Rates brought in about $80 million a year for the council. About $19.6m worth of rates were due in the next month. If all ratepayers deferred their payments it would cost the council $21,500 in interest costs.

The council decided not to suspend both lots of late fees, as this could disrupt the council's cashflow. It could also cause ratepayers to not pay their rates' bill next month, leaving them staring down the barrel of two bills at the first rates' deadline of the next financial year.

This relief followed the council's decision last month to boost the region's economy by keeping this year's rates increase to below 2.2 per cent - the minimum needed to keep services running - in its annual plan.

A 2.2 per cent increase was estimated at an extra $1.10 a week per property.

Feedback on the annual plan closes on May 4 at 5pm. This year's rate would come into effect from July 1, once the plan was approved.

The first rates instalment of the 2020-21 year was due on September 8.

Ratepayers struggling to pay rates could also apply for a rates rebate, set up bill arrangements with the council, or postpone bills.

© Scoop Media

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