5 Dec 2013

Kaipara ratepayers urged not to pay council

8:45 pm on 5 December 2013

Leaders of the Kaipara rates rebellion are defying a call to start paying.

A bill passed by Parliament on Wednesday night validates millions of dollars worth of rates levied incorrectly by the Kaipara District Council, including charges for the controversial Mangawhai sewerage scheme.

The Kaipara District Council (Validation of Rates and Other Matters) Bill was sponsored by Northland MP Mike Sabin and concerns rates that had been set unlawfully between the financial years 2006-07 and 2011-12.

On Tuesday, the Auditor-General apologised to ratepayers for the failure of Audit New Zealand to properly assess the impact of the sewerage scheme, which the rates were levied for.

In her report, Lynn Provost found that the council borrowed $63 million for the scheme when it should have cost half that. An inquiry into the cost blowout triggered the sacking of the council.

The chair of the commissioners now running the council, John Robertson, says about 1000 people have withheld rates worth $3.5 million, forcing the council to put major roading projects on hold.

He says now that the bill has been passed, it is clear that ratepayers in Kaipara who receive services from the council should and must pay their way.

Mr Robertson says Mangawhai people will pay rates only on the $35 million sewerage project they consented to; the cost overrun of $18 million will be spread over the whole district.

But the Mangawhai Ratepayers Association says the Auditor-General's report has shown that ratepayers were misled and badly let down by the council and no one's yet been held to account.

The association's chairman says people should keep withholding their rates until the High Court determines the legal liabilities in a judicial review in February next year.

Council seeking compensation

The council is taking legal advice on seeking compensation from the people and agencies involved in its financial mess.

John Robertson says the report has revealed an astonishing array of blunders by past councillors, their chief executive and the Audit Office. He says there are clear arguments that ratepayers were let down and it would be reasonable to expect compensation.