Bungle in rates barcode slammed

RATEPAYERS lining up to pay their already-increased bills at Australia Post offices will face an added zero on their figure after a bungle in the barcode was revealed yesterday.

The printing of rate notices was outsourced by the Southern Downs Regional Council and the Brisbane-based company is understood to have received a tongue-lashing from a disgruntled council already battling ratepayer backlash.

Director of Corporate Services Andy Ireland broke the news to councillors at yesterday's general meeting in Stanthorpe.

“The barcodes on rate notices don't tally with the Australia Post barcode. What it basically means is if you've got $1000 to pay on your rates account, when it is scanned, it will come up as $10,000.”

There were a few heads in hands around the table as our elected officials comprehended the extent of the mistake.

“We're talking Australia-wide here. People who are property owners but don't live here will be affected,” he said.

Deputy Mayor Peter Blundell asked if ratepayers could face bank fees if they paid the wrong amount without having funds in their accounts.

Mr Ireland told him, “It depends on how they pay. For example, yes, if they pay by cheque, they may face a dishonour fee, but that will get sent back the printers.”

“Who pays for the heart attacks?” Cr Denise Ingram quipped.

Mayor Ron Bellingham urged residents to check they were being charged exactly what was on their rates notice if they were paying at Australia Post outlets.

Residents can still make payments through council offices, Warwick Credit Union branches, via Bpay, the internet and by credit card.

However, one Warwick resident urged fellow ratepayers to query the council if they are unsure about their bill.

The East Street resident, who did not want to be named, said when she opened this year's rates bill yesterday morning it was initially double what she paid last year.

However, the quick-thinking woman managed to knock it down by almost $387 after querying it and she advised others to do the same.

“There's no harm in querying your rates bill,” she told the Daily News.

“Our water access bill was double our neighbours' and my parents'.

“We budgeted for a rate rise and were happy to pay it, begrudgingly pay it, but it seemed like a lot.

“It was originally $2296.34 but now the amount is $1909.97 after a call to the council, they were helpful.”

Plenty of queries will be coming from the southern part of the region with the Daily News receiving angry responses, especially from businesses just off the main street of Stanthorpe.

Crisps Coaches owner Dale Crisp wrote to all councillors and even met with the mayor after counting the cost of his exponential rate increases.

Mr Crisp was stung in the State Government valuations but council's new region-wide differential rating system, which was supposed to curb some of the spikes, did little to protect him from almost 200 per cent increases in rate bills.

The new system melted three Stanthorpe business categories into one rate in the dollar, which means property owners like Mr Crisp in the former business category II will, for the most part, see increases.

Stanthorpe man John Graham believes the wrong valuation figure has been put on his rate notice and he will also challenge the figures.

“I still need to add it all up but I think my rates have gone up for one property, around 60 per cent and another almost 90 per cent. I will definitely be going to see council.”

Ratepayers will have a 60-day period to pay their rates and receive a 10 per cent discount.

Mr Ireland also advised yesterday's general meeting that Allora Library will no longer act as a rate collection office.

Allora residents can make their payments at Australia Post or the Credit Union.

Meanwhile, Condamine Headwaters Group chairman Laurie Dagg is hosting a meeting to discuss the impact the rate increases will have on the group.

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