South Lismore invalid pensioner Christine Anderson, who had her house sold by the Lismore City Council to recover unpaid rates.
South Lismore invalid pensioner Christine Anderson, who had her house sold by the Lismore City Council to recover unpaid rates.

Council chases unpaid rates

WHEN Lismore City councillors sat down last August to kick-start the process of recouping unpaid rates that led to the auctioning of the home of South Lismore invalid pensioner Christine Anderson for unpaid rates, she was far from the largest debtor.

While her house was auctioned to repay about $15,000 in rates, one CBD business owed a combined $52,000 for three properties.

Of the largest rate debtors, Ms Anderson was ranked as 10th, far below the largest debtor who owed two-and-a-half times that amount at $36,000 for one property.

Council’s finance manager, Rino Santin, said the difference between Ms Anderson and other indebted ratepayers was that her arrears were more than five years old, and the others had entered into an agreed payment plan to repay the amounts.

“At any point in time it is possible that an assessment has the highest overall outstanding balance, but it may not meet the requirements to be sold for unpaid rates,” he said.

Ms Anderson took the council to the Land and Environment Court arguing she had entered a payment plan and was being denied natural justice.

The case was yesterday referred to the Supreme Court for determination.

Council has been struggling with a rate arrears problem for some time.

Last financial year the crisis ballooned to historic levels as arrears reached 11.59% of its rate base, or roughly 14% of rateable properties.

Based on information provided at the mid-August meeting, councillors passed a motion in October to auction 17 properties, including one farm and one business to recover $283,721.

In one sentence in the report they also quietly reversed, in this instance, the long-standing policy of not selling up pensioners.

In all but two cases payment plans were put in place allowing residents to retain their homes.

One vacant block of land was sold for $1200 and Ms Anderson’s home for $175,000.

Although not on the list of 20, the home of Lismore country music identity Margorie (Marge) Graham was to be auctioned for owing $10,803 after she refused to pay rates because the council had not repaired drainage outside her property.

Her house was only withdrawn from auction when a good Samaritan paid the debt.

Back in mid-August the CBD business, which can’t be named for legal reasons, was listed three times – ranking 4th, 6th and 10th – with rate arrears totalling $52,020.73.

Another Goonellabah-based business owed $18,288, with the collection agent suggesting the property be sold to recover unpaid rates.

In the case of the CBD business, the company was only 18 months behind in its rates.

Still, the council did issue the company with an “exam order” in August to explain to a court why the company couldn’t pay its rates.

Mr Santin said the use of examorders depended on individual circumstance and “where in the debt recovery process they sit”.

“An exam order can’t be issued until other legal action has taken place first,” he explained.

Asked about the status of the Goonellabah business, Mr Santin said he could not discuss this case due to privacy issues.

He also said he did not have information “readily available” on the highest debtor, but “assumed that the property did not meet legislative and procedural requirements”allowing a sale.

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