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Published: 2003-09-12 00:00:00

Ratepayers have already paid more than $9 million in rates to Environment Waikato, with the deadline for early payment discounts still more than a week away.

The Regional Council has been overwhelmed at the speed that rates have come in for its first year of direct rating, with at least a quarter of the $36 million rates revenue already paid and more waiting in post-dated cheques or direct debits on September 20. Ratepayers can receive a 2.5 percent discount if they pay by next Saturday, and won’t receive a 5 percent penalty in November if they have made arrangements to pay by instalments.

This week’s Environment Waikato Corporate Services Committee heard that about $300,000 a day was coming in, and more was expected just before the last discount day.

Revenue and Finance Manager Julie Clausen said the biggest problem with the 171,000 invoices sent was the quality of the data supplied by other agencies in ratepayers’ names, addresses and property information. The Council had received about 4000 calls from people who had problems with the information on their invoice, such as incorrect names or addresses.

New invoices had to be sent out and ratepayers whose information had to be changed would be given an addition month for prompt payment discount and will not be penalised for late payment.

“We are assuring them there will be no penalties to ensure we are very fair to them. It is important to take the time to resolve their issues properly.”

Feedback from most ratepayers calling in was generally positive, and most just required direct debit forms or to organise internet banking. Calls had reached 700-900 a day and tended to peak between 10.30am and 11.45am and again from 1pm to 2.30pm. Calls escalated when the more complex rural rates invoices were received, and waiting times for callers extended while an influx of these calls was dealt with.

Chairman Neil Clarke said it was important that people understood that the difficulties were caused by outside agencies on which the Council depended for its rating information.

Cr Steve Osborne said ratepayers in his area of Matamata Piako were very pleased to find they could arrange to pay by instalments, as many had large tax bills and other expenses around the same time.

Ratepayers receive a 5 percent penalty if they are not paid by November 1, 2003 and a further 5 percent penalty if rates remain unpaid by April 1, 2004.