Regional councils look at new rates systems

Wellington Regional Council and Environment Waikato have joined Auckland in the search for ratings systems to meet new legal requirements.

Wellington Regional Council and Environment Waikato have joined Auckland in the search for ratings systems to meet new legal requirements.

The Local Government Rating Act broadens regional council rating powers but also requires that from July next year bills include details about how rates are calculated.

Councils' existing ratings systems may not be able to cope with the added requirements.

Auckland Regional Council put out a proposals request in March and has had about 40 responses. ARC IT director Tony Darby says a shortlist of six will be drawn at the start of next month. ARC estimates the total solution will cost around $15 million over the next five years.

Meanwhile, Wellington Regional Council has put out a request for information on a rates collection system. Until now, the eight district and city councils have collected rates on behalf of the regional council and WRC is working with the councils in the area to see if they can continue doing it. WRC IT manager Steve Moate says the council hasn’t committed to collecting its own rates. “The RFI is to keep our bases covered,” he says.

If any council can’t accommodate the changes WRC will collect its rates, but only in the area affected. “We’re having ongoing discussions with the councils but there are some technical difficulties.”

The WRC RFI is for a range of systems and services related to rates collection including billing, payment processing and call centre services.

Waikato has 12 territorial authorities. Environment Waikato will go straight to an RFP for a system that will calculate rates, says regional information bank programme manager Jim McLeod.

“We’re looking at it very much along the lines of Auckland Regional Council, although we only have 180,000 rateable properties.

“We have to change the way we calculate the rates because we have to identify down to each property, how much they pay and for what. That’s different to collecting the rates, so we’ll have to look at whether district councils still want to do that."

Environment Canterbury isn’t looking for a rates system at this stage and is talking to the nine territorial authorities in the area to see if they can continue collecting its rates.

“We’re going around the local councils to see if they can cope or not," says Environment Canterbury CFO Neil Mayo. "We don’t yet know if they will be able to as it will require changes to the software. If the answer’s no, we’ll have to do it ourselves.” Most of the eight councils in the area use systems by Geac or Napier Computer Systems.

“The issue is that the legislation requires separate accounts be kept of territorial authorities’ and regional councils’ rates. It’s like having two debtors on one invoice. It’s a matter of working with software suppliers to see if they can change their software.”

Geac is used by 18 local authorities, including Wellington City Council, which has just signed a $1.12 million contract for the installation of the system GEMS.

“Regional councils are looking to provide a more direct relationship with ratepayers," says Geac’s David Guy. "The software bit is possibly the easiest part. The hardest will be determining the scope of the relationship and how rates will be calculated.”

Fujitsu northern regional manager Jim Jericevich, who says there are 19 councils using the company's Corporate Vision product, believes that the rating model of regional councils will also become more complex.

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