Sudden rate hike draws wrath of Auckland church leaders

5:52 pm on 20 November 2018

Angry church leaders have been given an apology by Auckland councillors about a rates change that meant some were suddenly charged tens of thousands of dollars.

Church leaders address Auckland Council.

Church leaders address Auckland Council. Photo: RNZ / Rowan Quinn

Five leaders gave occasionally fiery addresses to a Finance and Performance Committee meeting about the changes earlier this year, which the council said were made to more accurately reflect how church buildings were being used and the way land values had changed.

At the meeting the council agreed to defer any increases until next year while it looks at its policies.

Elim Church elder John Roberts told councillors it used to pay $400 a year in rates, but was told in August it would have to pay $21,000.

"There was no explanation, no valuation... no consultation, just a new policy and a massive bill," he said.

The council had severely eroded the church's trust in it and was trying to chip away at national legislation that allowed them to be rates-free, he said.

Other angry leaders spoke about the pettiness of the process, saying they felt the council did not know what it was doing.

Orakei Baptist Church's Diane Robinson said the rates revisal had been an "incredibly, badly flawed process".

She suddenly received a bill for $1400 that was due at the end of the month and had no idea where the money would come from, she said.

That was despite filling out a survey for the council about the building use.

"What did you do with those surveys? Did you chuck them away?" she said.

Under council rules, places of worship are not charged rates.

But it made the latest changes after staff decided to review exactly how church buildings were being used.

For example, a church with a hall, a home and offices would no longer all be rated as a place of worship - its hall would be rated as a hall, its home as a home and its office as offices.

Cr Ross Clow said the review had uncovered one example where a religious organisation should have been paying $200,000 a year in rates for a carpark it leased commercially.

The church leaders at the meeting agreed that anything that was operating as a business should be rated as a business, but said the council had wrongly classified many of its halls, buildings and carparks.

Cr Desley Simpson said the rating changes should not have been made by staff without consulting councillors.

The churches had buildings that the community needed, she said. Those that made a profit should be charged, and those that did not should not.

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