No penalties for rate demands 'lost in mail'

Penalty payments on rates bills will be waived by the Queenstown Lakes District Council for ratepayers in the Fernhill area who did not receive their bills because they were allegedly stolen by a postal worker.

A noticeable number of ratepayers missed their rates payments this year and the QLDC said yesterday it would deal with those people on a case-by-case basis to ensure they were not treated unfairly.

Queenstown police arrested a 32-year-old postie on Friday for the alleged theft of thousands of New Zealand Post packages and envelopes over the past two years.

The woman, who was contracted by New Zealand Post, has now lost her job and will appear in the Queenstown District Court on Monday charged with theft by a person in a special relationship. This carries a maximum penalty of seven years' imprisonment.

QLDC media communications manager Meaghan Miller said yesterday the council sympathised with those affected by the missing mail and would deal with each ratepayer on a "case-by-case" basis.

"We had noticed a pattern in payments of ratepayers from Fernhill and Sunshine Bay.

"These people were getting in touch saying they hadn't received their rates [bills]."

The council reported this to New Zealand Post, which said it had dealt with "hundreds of complaints" over the two-year period the thefts had allegedly occurred.

The council's usual procedure for following up on a bill was a letter and then a phone call.

While there was a noticeable gap in payments from the Fernhill area, most ratepayers knew when their rates were due and would often come in to the office and ask where their bill had got to, Ms Miller said.

"We have a lot of sympathy for these people. It is more than a frustrating and an unpleasant offence."

Fernhill and Sunshine Bay Residents Association chairman Robert Freer commended the council for its handling of the missing bills.

Mr Freer had had bills go missing in the past year, but had followed them up and paid through internet banking.

"I just thought, 'Oh well, it's got lost in the mail.' I didn't think anyone would have flogged them."

He said he did not hold New Zealand Post responsible for one employee's actions even though it had taken two years to investigate the issue, and he called for reparation from the woman if she was found guilty.

It is the second such incident in New Zealand in recent months. On September 30, a 38-year-old Auckland woman admitted to burying 28,000 pieces of mail in her garden over a three-year period.

The case was adjourned to December 18.