Ashburton District Councillors have today voted to cut the Council's proposed 4.88 per cent rates increase for the 2020/21 year to 2.5 per cent, and will remit late penalty fees on the last rates instalment for the year for residents in financial hardship.
The Council has approved the measures amid concerns for ratepayers struggling with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ashburton District Mayor Neil Brown said the decision recognises the hardship many residents are facing and reflects the Council's wish to reduce the financial pressure on ratepayers.
"The COVID-19 lockdown has left many without work and businesses unable to open. The Council is doing what it can to mitigate the economic pressure on residents when we enter the new financial year, while also ensuring our levels of service the community expects can continue to be delivered.
"We had a very robust and considered discussion about the rates increase today, and while there was not uniform agreement around the table, the Council is very aware of the wellbeing of our community and what our district may be facing in the months ahead around COVID-19 and our recovery."
The draft 2020/21 Annual Plan had proposed to collect an extra $2.1 million in rates, but Chief Executive Hamish Riach said the Council would prudently re-evaluate its expenses to bring that amount down.
"Most of our capital projects of significance are already committed to and are funded by loans, however there are other areas we will be looking at to make sensible savings. Our focus will be on re-evaluating non-critical expenditure, and making the most of our AA+ credit rating to access more competitive interest rates."
Mayor Brown says, "Although we are in a lockdown, the Council continues to provide essential services that our community relies on and it's important that we continue to receive the funds that pay for those services.
"We understand that things are very difficult for some at the moment, especially when the last rates instalment for the 2019/20 year is due on 20 May. One way we can help those who may be struggling is to ensure they don't incur additional fees on their last rates instalment."
Residents experiencing hardship will be able to apply for late penalty fees to be waived, even if they had already received a waiver in the last 24 months.
Council be issuing further information on how to apply for remission of penalties due to hardship in the coming days.