Kiama Council’s first online meeting, conducted via video conferencing, has approved a financial relief package for ratepayers affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
The temporary relief package is for commercial and primary place of residence ratepayers who cannot pay the next installment (31 May) of their current rates and annual charges.
Those who apply to postpone the payment will not be charged interest for the deferral period up to 31 August, when the first installment of 2020-2021 will be due.
Council will also refrain from implementing any legal recovery actions during that time.
The generous package has the potential to affect Council’s cashflow by anywhere between $2.7 and $4.8 million, depending on its take-up.
Ratepayers will apply for the deferral online, by filling in a simple form. No proof of hardship will be required, with applicants asked to provide a reason for the request from the options of: unemployed, reduced working hours, business interruption, loss of rental income or other (non-specified).
“Councillors were very strongly of the view the form needed to be as simple as possible,” says Kiama Council’s General Manager, Kerry McMurray.
Council has already introduced measures to help residents and local small businesses, including paying within two weeks of receiving a correctly rendered invoice, ensuring users of
Council facilities are receiving a credit or refund for cancellations, and not charg-ing fees for activities that can no longer be utilised (such as outdoor cafe chair fees).
After a period of inaction, since our last edition the NSW Government has introduced relief measures to help councils cope with the new world they are operating in.
Regulatory changes have been introduced to give more flexibility, including:
- allowing councils to delay sending out the first quarterly rates notice for 2020-21 and extend the payment deadline by one month
- removing the public notice periods for reducing or waiving fees
- giving a one month extension for submitting budgets, plans and annual reports
- removing the requirement for documents to be available for inspection if they are available electronically
- removing the requirement for council notices to be advertised in newspapers and instead allow them to be published on a council’s website.
Mr McMurray says that, at this stage, he expects the budget will ready to present to the May Meeting of Kiama Council, in accordance with the usual timeframe.
“We have just finished a full line by line analysis of this year, in order to see how we can recover some of our financial position this year.
“Our net impact of lost revenue and reduced expenses likely to have a detrimental effect on the current budget of $3 million.
“It will also have flow-on impact for next year’s budget.”
With the aim of kick-starting community infrastructure projects to stimulate the recovery, the NSW Government has announced a $250 million increase in low cost loans to eligible councils, as well as offering principal and interest payment deferrals on existing loans upon request for the next six months.
In addition, as councils are not eligible for the Federal JobKeeper support package, the State Government has introduced a three month Council Job Retention Allowance of $1500 per fortnight per qualifying staff. The total allowance is capped at $112.3 million, and will be drawn from the Jobs for NSW fund.
$32.8 million has also been allocated to help councils meet increases in the 2020/21 Emergency Services Levy.
“We’re currently assessing the details of the stimulus package to determine the implications for Council and our community,” says Mr McMurray.
The financial assistance package does not include the call Kiama Council made for the State Government to increase the Financial Assistance grant payment to councils to one per cent, to help them maintain essential functions and services.
Council has also called for increased apprenticeship opportunities.