Bureaucrat queries review’s arrears claim

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Queenstown council’s finance boss has questioned a claim in a restructure draft report that the district has a “relatively higher” rate of ratepayer arrears. 

Last week, Mountain Scene revealed the draft consultation document into a shake-up of Queenstown Lakes District Council called for analysis on why late payment of rates bills was relatively high compared to other areas. 

The call for analysis was dropped from a final report two weeks ago, but council chief executive Adam Feeley said that’s because it was a process matter, separate from the restructure. 

The final report notes 37 per cent of ratepayers pay by direct debit or automatic payment and three per cent online via credit card, leaving the remainder – about 13,000 ratepayers – paying by cash, cheque, in person or by mail, internet and telephone banking. 

Feeley, supported by mayor Vanessa van Uden, is considering incentivising early payers to get more direct debtors and reduce processing time and effort. 

However, council finance boss Stewart Burns told a council committee meeting this week he “took issue with a couple of comments” in relation to rates revenue and arrears. 

A suggestion of a “high percentage of arrears” is inaccurate, he says, adding council has received almost $47 million, or 97 per cent, of the rates due on February 22. 

“Plenty of councils have a higher percentage [in arrears] than we have. 

“We’ve got effective ways of collecting our rates – it’s not an area that there’s a problem.” 

Burns says a latest assessment shows 44 per cent pay via direct debit and 40 per cent by direct credit, via automatic payments, telephone or internet banking – the number paying in cash was “practically zero”, with 16 per cent paying either by cheque or eftpos. 

“The message I get from the report, that we could be doing … a lot better … is not the case.” 

Feeley says the final report doesn’t mention the rate of arrears – but its authors are of the view council should aim to get the late payment figure down: “I doubt anyone would disagree with the aim of getting rates paid in a timely manner and minimising council staff costs in collecting rates.”