Accounting for rates

The small North Canterbury Council of Hurunui in New Zealand has developed a unique method of accountability to ratepayers. Each ratepayer in the district receives an individualised summary of Council's draft Annual Plan three weeks prior to the close of submissions to the document.

The summary includes the impact of proposed rate increases and a summary of planned projects in the ratepayer's area. Paddy Clifford, General Manager at Hurunui said the system recognises a hierarchy of information needs.

"Ratepayers want to know which parts of the draft Annual Plan affect them and their family, and then what is happening in their immediate neighbourhood. The order continues to descend, from community and ward issues, through to district and regional issues."

Software developed specifically for Council enables a detailed summary of the Plan to be tailored specifically to each ratepayer.

In 1996, a similar process was undertaken but instead of going to ratepayers before submissions closed, it was sent along with the rates after the annual Plan was finalised.

Paddy Clifford believes the new system encourages increased awareness and understanding about Council plans for the upcoming 12 months and improves communication between Council and residents.

He said ratepayers have an exact calculation of all the rates proposed for their property, and enough time to object if they have a problem.

"The principle behind this system is that if we have the power to demand payment from ratepayers then we also have a responsibility to let people know how they are affected individually," he said.

He added that the system shows that small Councils are capable of introducing innovative change.

"Any local authority can introduce a similar system regardless of the number of ratepayers," he said.

For further information contact Paddy Clifford, telephone New Zealand (03) 314 8816 or email info@hurunui.govt.nz