ORANGE City Council will ramp up efforts to recover overdue rates after it was revealed Orange ratepayers are falling behind on their payments more so than those in similar council areas.
Financial presentations from Orange City Council’s auditors are generally fairly staid affairs, but Thursday’s audit report turned into a debate about Orange’s high rates when the “deteriorating” unpaid rate ratio was discussed.
As of June 30, 9.87 per cent or about $1.9 million of Orange’s $20 million total rates were still outstanding for the financial year - more than the amount of similar councils that had an average of just 5.85 per cent.
In his presentation to councillors, independent auditor Morse Group’s John O’Malley said the ratio of outstanding rates “required management attention” after deteriorating over the past few years.
In 2011/12, only about 8 per cent of council rates were left unpaid at the end of the year, while in 2010/11 only 5.8 per cent were outstanding.
Mr O’Malley said it was unlikely that Orange residents were in a worse economic position than those in other council areas to account for the amount of unpaid rates.
But councillor Reg Kidd said an increase in outstanding rates was a trend that had been creeping up as people struggled to pay.
“It is a talking point in the city,” he said.
“A lot of people are finding it difficult.”
Councillor Glenn Taylor said council’s rates had been some of the highest in the state for around 30 years.
“We approve that increase [each year] and that’s why people get angry when they see us spend money on other things,” he said.
“We have to look at every cent ... it’s a percentage for us but it’s a dollar for them.”
But Mr O’Malley said the historically high rates did not explain the recent increase in unpaid rates.
He said the council could be looked at less favourably by other tiers of government when applying for grants if rates were not increased by the full amount allowed under rate pegging each year.
Mayor John Davis said although times were tough, Orange was the envy of most country areas and much better off financially.
“Some of the outstanding rates have not been the battler,” he said.
“The best payer is the really ordinary person who’s worked hard.”
“Orange is up there with the best of them in regards to security of jobs.”
Unlike other comparable council areas like Bathurst and Dubbo, Cr Davis said Orange ratepayers had historically paid more but had benefited from better facilities like the art gallery, theatre and now indoor aquatic centre - helping to attract medical professionals to town.
Mr O’Malley said the biggest bearing on recovering the outstanding amount was how council staff collected the rates.
Cr Davis said the high number of unpaid rates could be down to when the rates bills fall due.
“They’re supposed to get them out at a consistent time but sometimes they’re early or late,” he said.
“Council staff just need to be aware of it which they are.”
Cr Scott Munro suggested council should “show humanity” and look at waiving rates for people on hard times or introduce a discount for rates paid on time as an incentive for ratepayers.