Council Zooms online with rates relief plan

How the public saw Waipā District Council’s first ever online meeting is how many people now see their work colleagues.

Waipā District Council will roll out a series of rates relief measures – including lower rates penalties and longer payment deadlines for penalty remissions.

In a move it said was aimed at assisting district ratepayers who were struggling because of Covid-19, and the resulting lockdown, councillors voted in favour of the proposal during an extraordinary meeting of Council last week.

Rate penalties will drop from 10 per cent to three per cent and payment deadlines will be extended.

Waipā District Council mayor Jim Mylchreest said the measures applied to rates due in the current financial year and were in line with the Government’s Covid-19 Response Unit recommendations.

“We’ve been advised by the response unit to continue issuing rates notices for essential services, such as water, recycling and roading. If residents were to stop paying for these services we would no longer be able to provide them.

“What we can do is help those who are struggling financially by significantly reducing our penalty fee and extending payment deadlines for ratepayers seeking penalty remissions.

He said it meant residents who qualify would have much longer to pay their rates and won’t be penalised.

The measures could be applied to any current water rates charges and to the fourth quarter rates charges which were due at the end of May, Mr Mylchreest said.

He urged residents who needed help to contact Council to discuss their options.

“We need to hear from you if you and your family are under financial pressure and unable to pay for regular Council-operated services. There are many ways we can help but we need to have that discussion first.”

Mr Mylchreest said Council was also reviewing its 2020-2021 Annual Plan, which is out for consultation.

“We are taking a steady approach so we can make decisions based on facts and ensure we are doing the best we can for our communities.”

Annual Plan submissions will be considered by Council’s Strategic Planning and Policy Committee on May 26, before being presented to Council for adoption on June 30.

Waikato Regional Council is also considering options for a rates relief package for ratepayers facing financial hardship.

Chairman Russ Rimmington said prolonged economic impacts are expected and the regional council wanted to be able to help ease the financial burden.

The options being considered include rates remission and postponement policies, flexibility in the period over which rates payments can be made and the setting of a zero rates impact budget for the 2020/21 financial year.

Mr Rimmington said while the council’s rates bill is unlikely to be the biggest bill most Waikato people will face, councillors did recognise the accumulative impact of all expenses for those who are struggling.

“I’ve never seen the Council so unanimous over anything,” he said. “And we do not want to add to the financial burden on our communities at this point in time.”

In Waipā applications for penalty remission including the extension of the rates payment deadline can be sent to [email protected] and will be decided on a case-by-case basis.


Zooming Online…

Waipā District Council’s first full online Council meeting appears to have gone without a glitch.

And the Mayor and some councillors say they see scope for using more technology in future meetings.

An extraordinary full Council meeting was held last week using video communications app Zoom. It was also live-streamed on YouTube.

Mayor Jim Mylchreest told the News afterwards he felt the “unique situation” of streaming a meeting had gone well.

“I am not sure how it went from a viewer’s perspective, however from the perspective of myself and other councillors it went well and there were no issues.”

Mr Mylchreest said while utilising live streaming capabilities in the future was something Council would have to decide, he personally had no problem with it, whether that be meetings entirely online or streamed from Council chambers once usual meetings resume.

“I would expect that if there was a demand for it, councillors would be quite relaxed,” he said.

“I think the use of this technology going forward would be fantastic as it would allow more members of the community to sit in on meetings and get a better understanding of the issues facing our district.”

Te Awamutu ward councillor Hazel Barnes said the experience was “quite different” but she felt utilising technology going forward was a good idea.

Speaking of the lockdown she said she felt there would be aspects which would “open people’s eyes”.

“I suspect we might be able to look back on this and say ‘what areas of life improved and how can we keep it that way,’’’ she said.

Councillor Andrew Brown said while an online meeting felt a little more isolated by nature, he gave it the thumbs up.

“It’s obviously not quite the same as being in the council chamber, but technology-wise it actually went far better than I thought it would.”

Cambridge ward councillor Grahame Webber said the meeting itself was positive and Zoom was “easy enough” to use.
“Once you get set up and signed in it’s really amazing,” he said.

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