Every little helps: Changes to rates remissions to better meet needs of ratepayers

17/12/2020 4:58am

Nelson City Council has today (Thursday 17 December) voted to approve a series of changes to rates remissions, and agreed that they be consulted on in the 2021-31 Long-Term Plan. The changes come after Nelson City Council voted unanimously in April for a zero percent rates rise in the 2020/21 Annual Plan.

The changes include a reduction in the late rates payment penalty from 10% to 5%, and the removal of all penalties associated with unpaid water accounts.

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese says small changes like this can add up for people who may be experiencing financial difficulty due to COVID-19.

“Charges such as late payment fees can sometimes be the last straw when money is in short supply. By halving this charge, we retain the incentive to pay rates and water bills on time, while reducing the burden on people who may be struggling to pay through no fault of their own.

“There’s also a benefit in terms of administration. The time staff used to take pursuing small late payment fees for water bills can be better used to promote more efficient payment options, such as emailed invoices and direct debits.”

Other changes are designed to make the system more equitable. For instance, Council has recommended that the 2% discount applied when people pay their rates in one lump sum be removed, as it unfairly discriminates against those who cannot afford to pay the bill in full. The $137,000 cost of this policy is currently borne by all ratepayers, but benefits a much smaller proportion.

Ratepayers will also be given an extra week between their rates statement being issued, and the payment being due. Council receives feedback that mailed statements can take a while to arrive, leaving ratepayers with too little time to pay. Instead of being issued on 1 August, 1 November, 1 February and 1 May, rates instalments will be issued on 25 July, 25 October, 25 January, and 25 April.

“These are changes that make our rates system fairer, and easier to navigate,” says Mayor Reese. 

“We want to give Nelsonians as much opportunity as possible to be able to pay their rates, without getting into financial difficulty.”

Other recommended changes are designed to help local businesses, encourage development and ease the housing crisis. The Commercial Differential reduction has seen commercial rates in the CBD and Stoke decrease by 0.5% on a yearly basis since 2018. As a result, there is now a disparity for businesses outside of these areas. It is recommended that the 0.5% a year discount is applied to all commercial rates in the Nelson region.

A rates discount of 35% for rural land that is zoned residential is to be removed as it is a disincentive for landowners to develop housing. Ratepayers currently receiving this remission have been directly informed and will be specifically consulted with.

Finally, taking the view that in some cases short term lettings via AirBnB contribute to a decreased housing supply in the Nelson region, Councillors also agreed to launch an investigation into the potential for rating and regulatory options that might ease the problem.  

Mayor Reese thanked elected members for agreeing to look at the AirBnB issue. 

“I know in our region that we really need to understand how much of our residential property stock is being reserved for Airbnbs, when we have a major problem with access, particularly rental, both in terms of price and supply. I look forward to that information coming back.”

Council is required to review its policy on Rates Remissions at least once every six years under section 109(2A)(a) of the Local Government Act 2002.

The last review of the policy took place in 2018. However, Council has taken the opportunity to again review rates policy ahead of next year’s Long Term Plan consultation process.