Wairarapa rates arrears may indicate financial hardship

5:35 pm on 20 August 2020

Rates arrears in Wairarapa are growing, its district councils have revealed, which experts say is a telling sign of financial hardship in the area.

An aerial shot of Masterton.

An aerial picture of Masterton. Photo: 123RF

Money still owed for the financial year to 30 June are up on the previous 12 months, as the long term impact of Covid-19 and the lockdown response starts to appear.

The deadline for the new financial year's first instalment closed this week in all Wairarapa districts.

And more ratepayers have been unable or unwilling to complete their payments for the 2019/20 period - which was blighted by the pandemic and its response - than previous years, council reports to South Wairarapa and Masterton District Councils have showed.

In the south, rates arrears have increased by 18 percent from July 2019, from $200,000 to $237,000.

The dollar amount has risen by 47.7 percent in that ward, and 49.6 percent in rural areas, to $23,850 and $22,800 respectively.

Twelve more properties in Greytown are in arrears compared to this time last year.

In her report to the committee, South Wairarapa District Council (SWDC) finance chief Katrina Neems said the number of properties with overdue rates "is an important indicator of ratepayers' financial stress".

"The team are committed to working with ratepayers to help find solutions for those in financial stress."

Speaking at the committee meeting in Martinborough yesterday, Neems said the amounts were "worse than last year, but not worse than we expected".

"One of the measures of how we're tracking is to keep [look at] how people are keeping up with their rates.

"Carrying over to the next year is a pretty good indication that there's some financial hardship.

"The urban numbers have gone up, which is the concerning thing for me. We would expect rural to be stable because the rural economy hasn't been overly affected by Covid-19.

"But we are monitoring it. The numbers aren't huge but we are certainly keeping an eye on it."

Mayor Alex Beijen thought the numbers were low, relative to other councils.

Neems agreed, but said SWDC had always come off a low base, and the council decisions to manage each situation on a case by case basis was "very helpful".

Councillor Brenda West said government subsidies meant people were living in a "false economy" and the full extent of the Covid-19's financial impact was yet to be felt.

In Masterton, the district council [MDC] removed late rates penalties for their August instalment, in a raft of measures due to elapse at the end of August.

At its assets and risks meeting on Wednesday [19 August], the committee heard that MDC was owed $624,446 in unpaid rates from 2019/20, 1.5 percent of its rates, and back up to 2018 levels.

It is owed $624,446 in unpaid rates from 2019/20, up from the previous year.

A report from MDC's David Paris said this was "a very positive result considering the amount levied has increased each year, and the last instalment coincided with the Covid-19 level 3 and 4 lockdown period".

The number of properties in arrears has still increased to 570, from 516 last year.

Carterton's council predicted up to 20 percent late rates payments in its annual planning documents.

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