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Published: 2010-02-11 00:00:00

Environment Waikato’s finance and audit committee today signalled a rates increase of 1.7 per cent to fund regional council services next financial year. 

In approving the budget for the 2010/11 Draft Annual Plan, the committee highlighted the potential for further items to be added to the proposed rates revenue of $68.76 million when the full council meets on 25 February to finalise the budget for public consultation.

The committee recommended the council consult with the public about whether to add into the budget new money of $50,000 for surf lifesaving and  continued funding of the region’s $650,000 share of the Animal Health Board’s Tb eradication work.

The council will also consider the pest management committee’s bid for approximately $500,000 to fund further pest control work in North Waikato over three years.

Chairman Peter Buckley said the council had worked hard to restrain spending over the past two years, achieving significant efficiencies and savings.

He said the council had largely flat-lined its 2009/10 budgets and had absorbed inflationary impacts where possible, apart from areas such as transport where inflation adjustments are written into contracts.

Extra costs and revenue reductions had contributed to the rates increase, he said.

These included an additional $135,000 for costs associated with Environment Court hearings for the water allocation plan change and an extra $134,000 for EW’s share of the local government insurance risk pool for leaky building repairs throughout New Zealand.

The council has removed $500,000 forecast revenue from its budget pending discussions and confirmation from the Government that it will fund work associated with the Waikato River Treaty deal.

More than $1 million, or 1.54 per cent, was taken out of the budget as a result of the recommendation to remove the early payment discount.

“For most ratepayers the 2.5 per cent discount equates to around $6 – but it’s not cost neutral to the council and to pay for it we have to add more than $1 million to the rates,” Cr Buckley said.

In the current financial year, ratepayers paid $1.395 million to fund the subsidy, with three quarters of ratepayers taking up the opportunity to get the discount by paying their rates in full by 20 September.

 “This means the 25% of ratepayers who don’t pay by the due date or pay by direct debit installments are subsidising the rest – it’s simply fairer and more transparent to do away with the subsidy.”

Ratepayers will now have until 30 October to pay their rates or go on a payment plan.

Environment Waikato currently has the least punitive penalty for unpaid rates and is proposing to bring its penalty rates into line with most other councils in New Zealand. The penalty for late payment will increase to 10 per cent, with a penalty applied in July for the previous year’s rates and in November for the current year unpaid rates. Ratepayers on a payment plan will not incur penalties.