Port Macquarie-Hastings Council considers "more flexible" way to pay rate payments

Port Macquarie-Hastings Council says it will not freeze rate payments but will be more "flexible" for residents finding it difficult to meet their annual or quarterly rate payments.

Council currently has provisions for late payments while there is also a hardship policy in place.

However, council says it will look at all requests on a case by case basis.

Ratepayers who have not paid their rates in full by the due date are exposed to paying interest on the amount owning. That interest charge is interest calculated daily at the rate as shown on your rate notice.

Rates in arrears may also be subject to recovery proceedings by council and may incur recovery costs.

But with the local government area now at phase 1 restrictions for the COVID-19 virus, meeting rate payments and paying other bills may come into sharper focus as unemployment lines start to grow.

On Tuesday, March 24, council acting general manager Jeffery Sharp said ratepayers who may be finding it difficult to meet their rate payments should contact council.

"We currently do have a hardship provision in place and we will be moving to try and make those applications far more accessible given our front counters are closed to the public," he said.

"Our phone lines remain open as usual and our staff are there to support you.

"We are also looking at fees and charges for businesses where they have been impacted."

More on COVID-19 virus:

Mr Sharp said there had been no discussion with councillors about freezing rates.

"And it is not a matter of freezing rates. Our rates are set annually," he said.

"Council also has many fixed costs, as any business does, and we are not protected like small business.

"This matter needs careful consideration while being very mindful that this is having an impact on our local community and on our overall tourism and hospitality industries."

He urged the community to "remain calm".

A council spokesperson said that council is also considering late payments and how it can be more flexible during this time of crisis.

"We will look at the hardship policy on a case by case basis," the spokesperson said.

"Ratepayers are encouraged to contact council's service centre with any questions about rate payments or to discuss the hardship scheme.

"We are happy to talk through your individual circumstances."

Mayor Peta Pinson described the COVID-19 as a 'really difficult time" which is creating "a lot of stress and anxiety within our community".

"The measures the state and federal government have taken are now impacting on this community," she said.

"It is up to us to stay fit, well and healthy. This is a very serious situation."

It is up to us to stay fit, well and healthy. This is a very serious situation.

Peta Pinson

Mr Sharp said council had taken some difficult decisions to protect the community and its employees in regards to the transmission of COVID-19.

"Our libraries are shut, our customer service centres closed from public contact and we are moving to virtual meeting spaces," he said.

"We are also looking at what further steps we may need to take moving forward in regards to state and federal government and NSW Health requirements.

"We are limiting down face to face contact."

Council will continue to monitor its work sites checking on impact, supply chains and contractor availability.

Major works projects will continue but Mr Sharp acknowledged that council may need to revisit them in the future.

"We are trying to remain open minded and flexible," he said.

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