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Clarence Forum members have continued to rally on behalf of Alan Smith, who is endeavouring to modify an agreement with Clarence Valley Council, regarding his rates arrears. Pictured: (front l-r): Sue Noddy, Alan Smith, ACA’s Brady Halls; (rear from second l-r) Robyn Summers-Shelley, Peter Johnson, Helen Badger and Donna Kenny-Franklin. ACA team members are at far left and right. Image: Contributed

Councillors halve rates debt payments

Geoff Helisma |

At the July 17 Clarence Valley Council meeting, councillors unanimously supported a payment plan ($175 a fortnight) to recoup unpaid rates and charges from South Grafton resident and pensioner Alan Smith, whose plight was aired nationally on A Current Affair on Thursday July 12.

The decision halved the $350 Mr Smith had previously offered to pay and was paying; however, Mr Smith wrote to Clarence Valley Council (CVC) on June 6 requesting a reduction in his payments to $118 a fortnight.

On June 26, Mr Smith wrote to CVC requesting “the provision of a detailed breakdown of the rates and charges” owed, including “rates charged, [and] details of [any] legal action”.

Mr Smith previously explained his “extraordinary” circumstances to the Independent in the story, ‘House saved from CVC auction’, published on May 16.

He welcomed the council’s decision: “I’m pretty happy I can continue to eat and see a doctor when I want to and live a normal life,” he said.
He said he was “very grateful for the assistance I have received” from convenor of the Clarence Forum Facebook group John Hagger, its members and others who may have provided assistance.
However, he said he was “very uncomfortable with charity”.
“I prefer to be a giver not a taker,” he said.
“I’m much happier with people giving to worthy charities, rather than supporting me.
“I came back to Grafton [after two and a half years away while suffering debilitating health problems] to prove to myself that I could still operate independently and privately.”
The councillors’ decision requires Mr Smith to accept and commence the arrangement within “21 days of formal written notification”.

General manager Ashley Lindsay told councillors that the letter would be posted on Wednesday morning July 17
Councillors decided to: waive “interest accrued from 22/05/2018 … once the debt is cleared, conditional on … continued maintenance of the payment arrangement; reserve the right to proceed to sale … should [Mr Smith] fail to maintain the payment arrangement”; and, “reserve the right to recover interest accrued on all outstanding rates and annual charges should it proceed to sale”.

Meanwhile, Mr Smith had not received CVC’s correspondence by this newspaper’s copy deadline, noon on Monday.

Apart from awaiting a breakdown of the total amount owed, Mr Smith said he was at a loss to explain this statement in council meeting’s business paper: “Records show a long history of discussions, communications and payment negotiations regarding the outstanding debt with a number of occasions where legal action or seizure activity was halted when the property owner agreed to a payment arrangement, but subsequently defaulted.”

He expected the detail of this would be included in CVC’s correspondence.

At last week’s council meeting, Mr Smith’s situation was discussed in a confidential session and a motion was formulated.

In the subsequent open session, Cr Karen Toms said, in part: “We have tried for a long time to work with and assist him, and are continuing to do that in a respectful manner.
“Based on the information we have been given, this won’t cause him any distress; I hope this time it will assist him to work towards being in a better position with his debt.”

Councillor Andrew Baker said, in part: “We should not let anyone think this is a decision of the general manager alone … it is a decision of council, we own it; we are responsible for it and we’ve made it in the public interest of all ratepayers.
“It should be clear that we endorse any action CVC management [takes] to implement the decision….
“I also believe that this is (if it’s the right word) excessively fair to an individual, but not necessarily fair for all of the ratepayers who are struggling with their rates….”