Warning that rate arrears may blow out
Noosa residents’ ability to pay their rates throughout COVID-19 job cuts and business downturns is weighing heavily on the bean counters in council.
Noosa’s rate arrears levels are 4.5 per cent, which is below the 5 per cent industry benchmark.
However, council financial services manager Trent Grauf said that could increase as accounts initially due in July were called in.
The payment period was extended to September to help people struggling with the effects of the pandemic.
Council CEO Brett de Chastel said the council was not seeing the “wheels falling off”.
“We thought there might be some pain,” he said.
“There are some like that, there are some people who have requested for extended time to make arrangements to pay, but it is not out of the ordinary in terms of where we are in the cycle.”
There was an arrears spike of 10 per cent in February as ratepayers did not make their payment and had to make hardship arrangements with the council.
Mr Grauf said this could be repeated in this October by any September deadline defaulters.
The council has also budgeted this financial year to spend $1.1 million on legal charges to defend its contentious planning issues and has already spent $175,000 in legal costs or $25,000 above the scheduled target.
Cr Amelia Lorentson quizzed Mr Grauf on whether or not there had been a rise in legal consultancy fees and if the legal outgoings were in keeping with councils of similar size.
“It seems like a lot of money that we’re spending,” she said.
“I keep raising the opportunity to introduce in-house legal services and I hope that’s the future.
“Are we spending too much, that’s my question?”
Mr Grauf said he believed the level of consultancy use in the council had been reduced because of the pandemic but said he would have to check to ensure that was the case.
Mr de Chastel said he suspected for councils of Noosa’s size the legal spend could be a bit high because the level of development pressure was higher.
“One of the challenges for Noosa is that all that flat, unencumbered land, easy land has been developed, and what’s left is the difficult land that’s sloped, vegetated and in flood-prone areas,” he said.
“It is inevitable that we will have higher planning and environment court costs than other councils.”