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Monday, 28th October, 2013

By Darrin Manuel

City Council faces a void of around $1.7 million in unpaid rates, with many residents unable or unwilling to make payments.

Almost 16 per cent of rates went unpaid in 2012/2013 financial year, although that number was heavily influenced by the recent dispute over mine rates.

However, in the two years prior an average of nine per cent of rates were not paid.

The unpaid rates creates difficulty for all involved, with residents struggling to pay their bills and the huge cash shortfall impacting on Council’s operations.

Outside of mining rates, the majority of the missed payments come from residential (65 per cent), business (11 per cent) and waste services charges (16 per cent).

Those numbers are unlikely to improve in the near future with Council deciding in June this year to shift $875,000 in mine rates to home owners and businesses.

The move was undertaken in order to prepare the city for life after mining.

Failure to wean City Council off of its dependence on mine income could see residents’ rates rapidly skyrocket, according to Council general manager, Therese Manns.

Although the rates shift was made under former Council general manager Greg Wright, the new GM said she understood why action was taken.

“Broken Hill has a significant reliance on mining to fund its Council services and infrastructure - much greater than any other LAG,” said Ms Manns.

“The shift in rates away from mining was only one step in dealing with the inevitable - that mining activities within our ratable boundary will not be around forever.

“Other steps include reviewing Council’s operational efficiency and effectiveness and also reviewing the services provided. 

“If there is not some management of this issue now, then it is possible that on reduction of mining activity in town, individual and business rates bills would triple or even quadruple overnight. 

“That is not acceptable and would not be manageable by anyone.”

It was also revealed that the city’s top 30 rates debtors owe a combined total of $442,094, and Council could legally sell 80 properties owned by debtors to recoup its losses.

Ms Manns urged any residents struggling with their rates to contact Council immediately for assistance.

As of June 30, $329,745 of the outstanding rates were being paid via formal payment arrangements, and $10,058 was being managed under hardship provisions.

“It is extremely important to talk to Council about setting up a reasonable payment arrangement to prevent your rates debt getting out of hand. The quicker you get onto it, the less difficult it is to overcome,” said Ms Manns. 

“We would much prefer to talk to people and agree on an arrangement to keep rates up to date rather than launching into legal action. However, unfortunately in many instances, we have no choice.

“I understand that it is difficult sometimes to deal with outstanding bills, and over the years I’ve heard many people say that they were just too embarrassed to pick up the phone and make an arrangement when they couldn’t afford payment on the due date.

“But as hard as it may seem, it’s at this point that you have the ability to do something about it. Unfortunately it’s often left too long, and when this happens it is a lot harder to get back on track.”

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