Environment Waikato has finalised its work plan and budgets for next financial year, settling on an average rates increase of 2.12 per cent to existing ratepayers.
Earlier this year the regional council consulted with the community about a range of proposals, including the introduction of a new targeted rate for west coast catchment work, the collection of a levy on behalf of the Animal Health Board (AHB), new rates funding for surf lifesaving, and changes to the rating package aimed at simplifying administration and reducing rates overall by removing the early discount payment.
The council received 650 submissions on the draft plan which proposed an average rates rise for existing ratepayers of 1.86 per cent for the financial year starting 1 July 2010.
Following deliberations this week, the regional council agreed to $1.598 million additional funding for key workstreams including:
- $204,000 –river and catchment services work
- $200,000 – co-management of Waikato River
- $190,000 - extension of the Orbiter bus contract
- $109,000 - aquaculture
- $100,000 - Tui Mine remediation project
- $95,000 - Lower Waikato catchment peat soils investigation and river survey
The increases were offset by increased revenue, budget adjustments and cost savings.
Chairman Peter Buckley said the council had worked hard to keep rates down while increasing service delivery in some areas, particularly pest management, river and catchment services and transport.
The council agreed to continue to collect $650,000 from rural ratepayers on behalf of the AHB. Only rural ratepayers pay the levy which funds the region’s share of bovine-Tb eradication work.
After considering submissions, the council also agreed to provide $50,000 funding for groups that work with the council’s navigation safety team, such as surf lifesaving and Coastguard.
The council’s decision to remove the early payment discount has taken about $1 million dollars from the overall rates bill. Previously, all ratepayers paid more in rates so that a 2.5 per cent discount could be given back to people who paid their rates in full by the due date.
The council considered it was fairer and more transparent to do away with the discount because those who paid their rates after the due date, or opted to pay by regular direct debit, subsidised those who qualified for the discount.
The payment due date will move from 20 September to 30 October, giving ratepayers an extra six weeks to pay their rates or go on a payment plan.
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.
Cr Buckley said the impact of the rates increase would affect property owners differently depending on where they lived, the services their communities received and whether their properties had been recently revalued.
Using the example of a $350,000 property, the changes in the rates all properties pay, excluding targeted rates, will range across the region from a reduction of 0.2 per cent or 32 cents to an increase of 9 per cent or $14.68. These changes are mainly due to a one-off adjustment in the way the differential general rate is calculated.
The council currently calculates the differential general rate using a three-year average. It will now move to an approach that bases the rates calculations on independent valuation advice about the annual movement of property values in those districts not revalued that year. This aims to smooth the three-yearly spikes in revaluation adjustments and bring Environment Waikato’s rating system more into line with other regional councils.
The council will formally adopt the plan on 29 June.