Queenstown council mulls rewarding prompt ratepayers

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Queenstown is among the country’s worst districts for late rate payments – and City Hall is mulling discounts for early payers to combat it.

A final report into a big shake-up of Queenstown Lakes District Council calls for a major public relations offensive to boost the ratepayers who pay by direct debit.

As it stands, 37 per cent pay by direct debit or automatic payment, with an extra three per cent paying online via credit card. That leaves 13,000 ratepayers using cash or cheque in person or by mail, and internet or telephone banking.

Council chief executive Adam Feeley wants to go further than a marketing campaign, saying late payment is “absolutely something council needs to address”.

“One of the things I’ve just been talking to [the mayor] about this week is we’ll need to create stronger financial incentives for people to pay by direct debit.”

Queenstown mayor Vanessa van Uden says she has no problem considering incentives as a way to get more ratepayers using direct debits.

The restructure report recommendation says a communication strategy to increase direct debit payers would slash the cost and effort involved in processing more than 50,000 manual payments a year.

“…and could also result in a reduction in the amount of arrears resulting from inadvertent missed payment dates,” the report adds.

The report reveals rates instalments for December 7 showed five per cent – or $1.6 million – was overdue. It sparked late payment penalties to 2641 properties, 12 per cent of all rateable properties in the Queenstown Lakes District.

By December 31, overdue rates and penalty charges had climbed to about $2.8 million.

An earlier draft report on council’s restructure says analysis should be done on why the rate of late payments is relatively higher here than in other districts – but this was dropped from the final report.

Feeley says that’s because the review is primarily about council’s structure and staff not processes.

“We haven’t ignored it but I think it’s a process change we’re going to have to make. We definitely need to change our processes to get more people online doing direct debits.”

Asked about incentivising early payers and direct debtors, Queenstown mayor Vanessa Van Uden says: “It’s very potentially something we could look at. I don’t have any problem with looking at incentivising it to get as many people as we can on it.

“There’s savings operationally – we need to emphasise it’s a very preliminary idea.”

Asked if she had thoughts on the quantum of incentives, she replies: “I wouldn’t want to narrow it down. Let’s not put too much structure around it and keep our minds open.”