Confusion reigns on throne tax

21:01, Oct 09 2012

Business owners have slammed revised pan charges, claiming the Matamata-Piako District Council 'pushed through' the controversial tax.

The council reviewed the charges after 290 submissions were made towards the Our Community Our Futures Plan 2012-2022, with concerns about the tax.

But Maple Lodge owner Denise Williams said the fundamental flaws of the 'user-pays' system were still there.

'The council didn't think of all the implications before they implemented this,' she said.

'It's pathetic.'

As previously reported in the Chronicle, pan tax charges non- residential ratepayers according to the number of pans (toilets or urinals) they have on site.

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The annual wastewater fee for a household is $687, with non- residential ratepayers now charged on a graduating scale for each additional pan (See: Pan tax - the facts).

Alternatively, the ratepayer can opt to have a water meter installed, which is used to assess their impact on the wastewater system in comparison to a residential household.

For example, Maple Lodge has 10 pans but uses only the equivalent of three households, so the business is charged for three pans.

Mrs Williams said she was prepared to pay this amount, but was angry that other business owners were not expected to do the same.

Properties such as service stations and fast-food chains had a small number of pans and could choose to pay based on that, she said.

However, if those businesses were assessed using the household equivalency system, she suspected they would prove to have a far bigger impact.

'They're the high users and they are not paying, so it's not a user-pays system,' Mrs Williams said.

'That's wrong.

'If they want a user- pays system they need to do it properly - every single business should have to have a water meter.'

Frustrations were pushed even further when Mrs Williams received her first rates demand last month.

'It took council staff more than 40 minutes to work out how to make sense of it and then explain it to me,' she said.

'It's ridiculous.'

Mayor Hugh Vercoe, who owns commercial property in the district, admitted that he was struggling to understand his own rates demand.

'It's bloody hopeless,' he said. 'We have not solved it.'

The main cause of confusion was the application of remissions, Mr Vercoe said.

Pan tax is being introduced over three years, meaning ratepayers paying per pan pay one-third in the first year, two-thirds in the second year, and the full amount in the third.

The back of the rates bills showed charges for the full amount, with this year's remission of two-thirds shown on the front as credit (CR) labelled as 'receipts paid'.

Ratepayers using water meters would also have charges appear based on the number of pans they have and would have a credit to remit this charge back to their actual household equivalent.

Council chief executive officer Don McLeod said the reason the bills were set out this way was because of an obligation under the Rating Act and they were looking to make the remissions clearer.

A letter would be sent out to individual ratepayers to explain how the remission worked, he said.

'We can assure people that the remissions have been applied, and that all ratepayers affected by pan charges are being charged the lowest option available.'

Councillor Ash Tanner said: 'It seems to be so messy. It is hitting people that don't deserve to be hit.'

Broadway Motel owner Tony Voyce said the council appeared to have pushed through the tax without properly investigating the impact it was going to have.

'It's quite a large amount of money to be found that hadn't been included in our budget,' he said. 'It's just been sprung on us.'

Councillor Leonie Tisch also questioned the timing of the move, and said: 'It's not good business. We should've delayed it a year.'

Mr Vercoe said pan charges were the council's only real option to establish a fairer system.

'We wanted a system where the high users were paying their fair share and this was a way we could do that,' he said.

The council had spent a significant amount of money upgrading the wastewater systems in Matamata and Piako, as well as extending into Waharoa, he said.

The upgrades were needed to ensure the wastewater systems met modern resource consent conditions set by Waikato Regional Council.

The Chronicle requested exact costs from the council, and expected a reply by October 31 under the Official Information Act.

Council staff were also looking into the possibility of introducing a charge to use the public toilets in Matamata, Mr Vercoe said.

'They are looking at how it works in Taupo and Cambridge: What does it cost?

"Do they make a profit? Does usage go up or down?"

"That's really another debate for another time."

 

PAN TAX - THE FACTS

Pan tax affects all non-residential ratepayers with more than one pan on site. This includes businesses, organisations and clubs.

The tax also applies to properties with more than one self-contained home on the same piece of land, for example units.

About 400 ratepayers in the Matamata-Piako district are affected.

The tax was introduced as part of Matamata-Piako District Council's Our Community Our Future Plan 2012-2022.

Properties are assessed by the council to determine how much wastewater they are likely to use in comparison to a residential household. This assessment is based on data from similar properties that use water meters.

Properties that are assessed as using the equivalent to one household are charged for one pan.

Properties that are assessed as using more than one household are charged for each additional pan, or can opt to install a water meter to prove their true impact.

Additional pans are charged on a graduating scale as follows: $687 for the first four; $583.95 for five to 10; $549.60 for 11 to 15; $515.25 for 16 to 20; and $480.90 for 21 and more.

A grant of $10,000 is being established by the council for non-profit organisations to apply for partial remission of their wastewater rates.

Organisations that believe they are eligible for the grant can register to receive more information by emailing info@mpdc.govt.nz.

Matamata Chronicle