In a bid for homeowners to pay their overdue rates and charges, Sunshine Coast Council is threatening to sell their land if fees remain unpaid.
The agenda item dominated Thursday’s ordinary meeting, where councillors unanimously voted to enact the sale of land procedure.
The move allows ratepayers’ land to be sold if some or all of their rates or charges have been overdue for at least three years as of December 31, 2022.
The recommendation is in accordance with the Local Government Regulation 2012.
Rates notices were issued on January 24 and were due for payment by February 24.
A council spokesperson said on average 85 per cent of ratepayers paid their rates notices by the due date.
The majority of owner-occupiers pay the minimum general rate of $1332.50 per annum.
Under the regulation, interest applies to rates that are overdue. The current interest rate is 8.17 per cent per annum. Council offers interest-free payment arrangements.
On January 24, a council report showed 67 properties had rates and charges overdue for at least three years and fell within the scope of the sale of land process.
As of April 14, there were 45 properties on the list, with overdue rates and charges totaling $494,676.47.
But in a presentation at the meeting, chief financial officer Michael Costello said that number had since dropped to 35 as of Wednesday.
This equated to $360,913 of rates and charges that had remained unpaid for at least three years.
Mr Costello said the list number would have most likely dropped again since Wednesday.
“We have a responsibility to collect rates and charges in a timely manner so that we can have the cash to carry out essential services and manage our cash,” he said.
From here, a first statutory notice will be issued to the ratepayers in June; the second statutory notice will be issued in September; and the sale of land auction, if required, will occur in October.
The most recent sale of land process was executed in 2022. Over the past four years, only one property has been auctioned through the process. That property was not occupied.
A council spokesperson said that as the process progressed, the number of properties with overdue rates and charges continued to reduce as landowners took action to pay their rates.
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Last year all properties included in the process paid before the auction.
“A sale of land process is used only as a last resort, after all other avenues to collect unpaid rates have been exhausted,” the spokesperson said.
“Sale of land procedures ensure that the community is not required to bear the financial burden of long-term rate debts.”
A council report revealed landowners may prevent the sale of the property by paying all overdue rates and charges, and all expenses that council has incurred in attempting to sell the land.
The report showed “intention to sell land for arrears of rates” letters were issued in March to the landowners of the properties remaining on the list.
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“This letter is not required as part of the sale of land procedures detailed in the Local Government Regulation 2012; however, this communication was issued to ensure landowners are aware of the options available to them, including entering into an approved rate payment plan,” the report stated.
Sunshine Coast Division 7 Councillor Ted Hungerford spoke to the motion, reiterating council was proactive in recovering outstanding rates and charges but made an effort to minimise the number of properties with rates outstanding for a three-year period.
“That effort is made to negotiate successful outcomes for landholders and council,” he said.
He said when the outcome was not achieved, credit management officers would advise landholders of alternative avenues to seek financial assistance.
“Officers take the time to counsel them … to discuss their other options that may be available: their mortgage, regarding refinancing; apply to the state government for mortgage relief loans; and apply to the taxation office for early release of superannuation,” he said.
“We make every effort to assist these people.
“We want to help people get there. We want to help every one of those who are in difficult circumstances.”
He said this was proven with council only auctioning off one house in four years.
“That’s an outstanding result and shows that we have care and compassion for our community as well,” he said.
“But we’ve got to be responsible to the rest of the ratepayers and collect those monies so we can effectively run our operations.
“This is not something we do lightly.
“I hope our team can get through this year, so we don’t have any (auctions) again this year.”
The council spokesperson said the organisation understood some landholders had difficulty paying their rates and remained committed to assisting those who can’t pay in full by the due date.
“Council encourages ratepayers who are experiencing financial difficulties to contact us prior to the due date for rates to discuss a payment arrangement,” the spokesperson said.
A number of rates payment options are also available via council’s website, including options to pay rates by installments.
Change to local law
Another item on the meeting agenda was a change to a local law involving off-leash dogs at the Maleny Showgrounds.
After community consultation, of the 141 public submissions made about changes to the nine local laws listed, 105 related to the proposal to prohibit dogs from certain areas within the showgrounds and adding a new dog off-leash area within the precinct.
Feedback on complaints received centered around dog waste issues and dog attacks on children participating in activities on the sports fields.
A community petition calling for the dog off-leash area at the showgrounds was also tabled by Sunshine Coast Division 4 Councillor Joe Natoli.
Councillors unanimously agreed to add a new small dog off-leash area in the equestrian zone of the showgrounds, to be used when equestrian events are not being held.
The rest of the showgrounds is now an on-leash or dogs prohibited area.
Councillors also agreed to incorporate the changes to the other local laws listed.
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