Northland councils’ rates under spotlight

11:52 am on 14 April 2020

Northland councils are looking closely at how to proceed with rates payments amid increasing economic and social impacts from the Covid-19 lockdown.

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Final rates payments for the current financial year are due by 20 May, with the rates demands for these ordinarily due out before the end of April.

Northland Mayoral Forum chairperson Jason Smith said Northland councils were duty-bound to send out rates payment requests for the last part of this financial year.

"The final quarter rates notifications are expected to be going out soon," he said.

"But we are mindful there's a health emergency going on, with great concern in our Northland communities in these unprecedented times.

"Northland councils all have provisions and processes in place for assisting people in hardship."

He said Far North District Council, Kaipara District Council, Whangārei District Council and Northland Regional Council were all looking at how to address rates payments for the tail end of the current financial year - which finishes on 30 June.

"It's a fast-moving situation," Smith said.

They were also working on rates matters going into the 2020/2021 financial year - which starts on 1 July.

Potential rates rises, initially indicated as recently as two weeks ago in councils' draft annual plan preparation for the coming year, may now be reconsidered, amongst a range of options going forward.

"Former projections, plus many other options, are all on the table for councils to get the best outcomes for our communities in these unparalleled times," Smith said.

Kaipara District Council's draft 2020/2021 annual plan proposed an average 5.49 percent rates increase. Whangārei District Council and Far North District Council did not provide information on their draft annual plans' equivalent figures. The public consultation period for some councils' draft 2020/2021 annual plans has already closed - as is the case for Northland Regional Council. Far North District Council's annual plan consultation closes on 17 April.

Smith said rates were used to fund critical Northland infrastructure including rubbish collection, drinking water, wastewater, sewage and local roads.

It was important for Northland's wellbeing to, as much as possible, have a business as usual approach to these.

He would not be drawn on whether Northland councils would be offering any respite such as rates postponement, holiday or freeze.

"We're working very hard to get the best solutions for the community."

Smith said the recent NZ Taxpayers' Union call for a 12-month rates freeze was not the best way forward for Northland.

Perceived potential short-term gain from such an action would create potential long-term pain for Northlanders.

"That sort of thinking is very much in primary colours when the situation's so much more complex than that," he said.

Smith said councils were duty-bound under the Local Government Act to work towards the costs of critical infrastructure being borne by those using it now, rather than shifting the payment debt onto future generations.

He said rates were at present the 'top of mind' issue for all Northland councils.

Councils had to balance considerations around rates with their role as critical regional recovery catalysts in the journey out of Covid-19.

Smith recently launched the Kaipara Mayor's Taskforce for Economic Support and Recovery to focus on economic support and recovery for businesses and residents.

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