By KIERAN FINNANE
The Town Council needs to make clear to ratepayers what rates relief it can provide and under what criteria and it needs to do this soon.
Left: Crs Satour and Banks at council’s last Zoom meeting.
Now is the time, given the unprecedented Coronavirus shutdown, that people are finding it hard to meet their bills and they are looking to council to help, says Councillor Marli Banks.
She is giving notice that she’ll move a motion at the end-of-month meeting that rate relief in the form of a waiver come in the first quarter of 2020-21.
If everyone qualified under the “hardship” clause (such a clause being required by Section 165 of the Local Government Act) that could amount to a loss of revenue to council of some $5.5m – the corollary being $5.5m staying in the pockets of ratepayers.
Cr Banks repeatedly stresses fiscal responsibility as well as equity and fairness in her contributions to council debates.
So her motion is unsurprisingly qualified by a clause ensuring “best practice” decision-making, including assessment by council’s Risk and Audit Committee as well as the department of Local Government and a legal opinion.
What she wants out of the debate of her motion is some direction on “structure” for the CEO to apply to a relief measure and for this to include communicating to the public as quickly and clearly possible what they can expect.
She is arguing that this is preferable to a series of “knee jerk” responses.
So far, with respect to rates, council has announced that it will suspend charging interest on outstanding rates balance until 30 June 2020, and rates payment due dates for the last quarterly payment of 2019-20 will be extended from 3 April 2020 to 30 June 2020. It has also announced waivers of various fees and charges.
Whatever the structure of rates relief is, Cr Banks suggests that it be budgeted at a maximum equivalent of one quarter of rates.
She says her motion has been triggered by the discussion that has already taken place within council in relation to proposals by Deputy Mayor Matt Paterson and Cr Eli Melky.
Why is her proposal better than what either of them is saying?
She does not think that a voucher scheme, as proposed by DM Paterson, is the best way to spend restricted funds.
And what she is hearing is that businesses want rate relief now rather than vouchers spent with them well down the track.
She acknowledges Cr Melky’s rate reduction proposal (5% in the coming year followed by a freeze in the second year, based on the current levels) but says so far it is not the subject of a motion, so it is not clear how it will move forward as part of council business.
Her motion is seconded by Cr Catherine Satour.
By KIERAN FINNANE