Rotorua ratepayers owe the district and regional council more than $4.6 million in unpaid rates for the past financial year.
Information provided by Rotorua Lakes Council showed this was about double the figure for unpaid rates at the end of the 2018 financial year, which stood at nearly $2.3m and up on the $4.2m owed at the end of the 2020 financial year.
As of June 30, 2021, there were 4501 accounts in debt. The largest outstanding rates bill was $103,760.76 which dated back to 2013.
Rates the council collected on the Bay of Plenty Regional Council's behalf were also included in the figures.
Executive director of the Taxpayers' Union Jordan Williams said the data showed local ratepayers were finding it tough.
"Rotorua households and businesses, particularly those devastated by Covid's impact on tourism, are having to cut back," he said.
"But instead of cutting the cloth to match, Rotorua Lakes Council is hiking rates by an incredible 9.2 per cent."
Rotorua Lakes Council committed to a 9.2 per cent average rates rise for 2021/22 in its 2021-2031 Long-term Plan.
"Unlike other taxes, rates aren't tied to income or the ability to pay. That means it hammers those who fall on tough times, or are retired," Williams said.
"This should be a wake-up call to local councillors. Cut the nice-to-haves until the pandemic is over and tourism returns to normal."
Former Rotorua mayor Grahame Hall said there was a "triple whammy" when it came to rates.
"You've got the economy bubbling along in some respect, but a huge number of people feeling it [and] having difficult to make ends meet.
"On top of that, you've got a council who has just put an exorbitant rate increase in.
"The triple whammy is you've just had a valuation."
Hall said the rates rises would react "very severely" on a lot of people.
"It's just totally unnecessary. They're just inept in my view trying to put rates up at this time with the Covid crisis and everything."
Hall said unpaid rates had "always been an issue to a lesser or greater extent".
Unpaid rates affected the council "quite severely" because the council had a rate take and expected a certain percentage of it.
"Hopefully 100 per cent. And if they don't get that, it will have quite an effect on their operation."
A Rotorua Lakes Council spokesperson said the council encouraged people to make contact if there were issues relating to rates payments so their situation could be assessed, options could be discussed and arrangements agreed upon.
"Some ratepayers may meet the criteria for a rebate through the Government's rates rebate scheme. People can make appointments via our customer centre to see if this is an option for them."
If no contact or arrangements were made with the council and rates became overdue, penalties would apply, the spokesperson said.
If rates continued to be unpaid with no payment arrangements in place, the process would become more formal, for example, through a debt collection agency or mortgagee demand.
"Court proceedings are a very last resort," the spokesperson said.
The council had taken one property to court to recoup rates but the settlement was not yet finalised.
The council did not respond directly to Hall's and Williams' criticisms.
Unpaid rates for rating years ending June 30:
All figures were net rates debt and are inclusive of GST.
The figures included any penalties incurred on unpaid amounts and included unpaid rates that applied to Māori land. Rates that the council collected on the Bay of Plenty Regional Council's behalf were also included in the figures.
There were still some rates deferments that were approved as part of assistance offered following the Covid-19 lockdown included in the figure for 2021.