Lismore City News
Saturday, 2 December 2023

Why Lismore council cannot write-off rates

Cathy Adams
Updated May 13 2022 - 9:06am, first published 5:00am

Lismore council said it is doing what it can to offer relief to ratepayers impacted by floods in February and March, but said it cannot simply waive rates altogether.

Lismore council said it is doing what it can to provide flood relief to its impacted residents. Picture: Cathy Adams
Lismore council said it is doing what it can to provide flood relief to its impacted residents. Picture: Cathy Adams

At the council's general meeting on Tuesday, the council resolved to write to the State government to ask it to cover the cost of rates for flood impacted people, but councillors discussed whether the council could find a way to not charge them in the first place.

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In asking the State to cover those costs, Councillor Adam Guise said: "People are living in terrible conditions. We don't need a further financial burden hanging over those people's heads".

He said rates, waste, and sewer charges had been paid for people impacted by bushfires in the past, and the Lismore council needed "to go down every avenue" to secure similar relief for its residents.

Lismore councillors voted on Tuesday to adopt a range of measures to support the flood-affected community.

They include the waiving of interest on overdue rate and water bills, a new Hardship Policy that specifically includes "Natural Disaster Impact', a streamlined Hardship application process and changing the way water usage is determined.

General manager John Walker said under the Local Government Act, the council was legally required to charge rates, and could not waive them.

The council collects $32.418 million in rates every year that pays for services and projects within the community.

Any reduction would mean a reduction in services or projects for the community as council would not be able to fund them all.

Rates charges are made up of a base rate that is set, and relevant charges and fees are charged on top of that - such as rubbish pick up and sewerage as applicable.

A council spokesman said those charges cover the cost of the service offered and do not make money for the council.

After the flood however, the council elected not to apply the 5 per cent CPI on those charges, absorbing that cost to offer relief to ratepayers.

Mr Walker said the hardship policy gave the provision to write off debts, but only after measures had been taken to recover the overdue rates.

He said the council rarely took legal action to pursue overdue rates, preferring to work with people to find a payment plan that they could meet to resolve the debt.

The waiving of interest across all rate categories on overdue debts meant ratepayers did not accrue more debt as they worked to pay off rates.

The council will not charge interest on overdue rates and charges from March 1 to 30 June 30, 2022. This will allow for the new hardship policy to come into effect, without penalising ratepayers.

The council said it is unable to offer relief to non-ratepayers, but it's expected that relief should be passed on by residential and commercial landlords.

The council said its new Hardship Policy is designed to make it easier for flood-affected community members to enter a payment plan to extend the time that rates are payable.

A new Hardship application form is also being developed to allow for an easier and more streamlined process for flood-affected residents.

The only area that Council has more ability to offer relief is water charges for flood-affected properties. The council will not charge households or businesses for excess water usage during the clean-up.

Water meter readings will continue as normal, but the council will be assessing usage by using average daily consumption from the same period in 2021.

Any ratepayer who receives a water bill that is much higher than usual can apply to the council to have the bill assessed. The council acknowledges people outside of the flood zone may have incurred excess water bills from helping to wash clothes or flooded items and will look at reducing the bill to an average charge for that household.

The council said flood-affected residents are urged to apply for support under the council's Hardship Policy.

Those who are unsure if they qualify or need any assistance can contact Council directly on 6625 0500.

Cathy Adams

Cathy Adams

Journalist