Southlanders ‘fight’ as SDC considers postponement of low income rate

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Councilor Karyn Owen has asked Southland District Council to investigate a policy of lowering rates for low-income households.

Robyn Edie / Stuff

Councilor Karyn Owen has asked Southland District Council to investigate a policy of lowering rates for low-income households.

A Southland District Councilor says people are struggling to pay fares and the responsible thing to do is investigate a fare relief policy.

Cr Karyn Owen made the comments at a meeting Wednesday, where councilors asked staff to study the feasibility of a policy of discounting or deferring rates for low-income households.

A detailed report on the affordability of fares in the District of Southland was tabled at the meeting.

Owen said the report pointed out that some people in Southland were struggling.

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District rates weren’t going to drop in the coming years and staff needed to review a policy, she said.

There were problems in areas with higher percentages of interest rate arrears, Owen said.

The areas with the highest percentages of interest rate arrears were Ohai, Nightcaps, Tuatapere, Wyndham, Otautau, Lumsden and Wallacetown.

Financial Development Coordinator Nicole Taylor wrote the report, which indicates 11 areas [of 31] in Southland pay more than 5 percent of household income on tariffs, which is above the council’s affordability threshold.

Southland District Council Mayor Gary Tong and Chief Executive Officer Steve Ruru.[File photo]

John Hawkins / Stuff

Southland District Council Mayor Gary Tong and Chief Executive Officer Steve Ruru.[File photo]

These areas were Wairio, Ohai, Kaweku, Riverton East, Nightcaps, Riverton West, Tuatapere, Manapouri, Wyndham, Fairfax, Otautau and Lumsden.

Council chief executive Steve Ruru said some of the information in the report was census data and was “averages, averages, averages.”

There was no perfect model for a rate discount or deferral policy, Ruru said.

Taylor’s report also indicated what percentage of an area’s population received government housing supplement payments. The regions receiving the highest percentage of housing supplements were similar to those with the highest percentages of arrears.

Taylor said there was a wider debate about whether the role of the central government or the councils is to solve social problems.

In May, Mayor Gary Tong supported his council’s one-on-one approach to tariff relief, where a struggling taxpayer could contact the council for help if they needed it, rather than a general postponement policy or a rate freeze.

At the time, he said that applying tariff relief criteria put people in a box.

After some advisers expressed concerns about the proposed rate increase at that time, advisers have since ratified a 2.31 percent increase.


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