150 Buller properties caught in council rating error

4:00 pm on 19 February 2021

About 150 properties in Buller have been affected by a council error that wrongly classified them as multi-residential - and saw some facing potential rate increases of up to 300 percent.

Karl Bollinger at his "residential" property at Blacks Point.

Karl Bollinger at his "residential" property at Blacks Point. Photo: LDR / Lois Williams

Reefton and Maruia residents raised the alarm last week after opening sample rates

assessments sent out by the Buller District Council to give people an idea of what they would pay under its proposed new rating system.

In the worst example, Blacks Point superannuitants Karl and Riki Bollinger found the rates for their rural riverbank property with only swingbridge access across the Inangahua River, would increase from $2000 to $6000.

Council deputy manager of commercial services Lyn Brooks said a number of properties in the current 'rural smallholding' or 'Rural residential" categories had been "misclassified" in the draft rates review proposal.

"We have found about 150 properties have been affected. When we sent out the sample rates assessments it was a way to check that the classification of properties was correct," Brooks said.

The council relied on information stored in its rates database to reclassify the 7500 properties in Buller, and some properties were either wrongly categorised or the records were not up to date, she said.

"We found examples where a property shows as multiple dwellings in the records but that was not the case and the records have not been corrected by the property owner. These issues only raise their heads when the rates are reviewed."

The council had now sent out revised sample rates assessments to any property owner who had reported an error, and staff had also contacted some ratepayers directly.

'Still bloody silly'

However, Bollinger said his revised estimate was still outrageous.

"They now want to double our rates instead of tripling them. They're asking us to pay nearly $4000 instead of $6000. Why? We don't even have water or sewerage services."

The retired shearer and his wife Riki have been largely self-sufficient on their 3ha property on the west bank of the Inangahua River for more than 50 years.

The only access to the land where the couple raise a few sheep and chooks is by swingbridge.

The home property was previously zoned rural, but was mistakenly reclassified as multi-residential in the council's first estimate.

That had now been toned down to "residential" in the corrected version, Bollinger said.

"But it's still bloody silly - does this look like residential to you? The only 'residence' on 10 acres is our house, unless you count the chook house and the old cow shed and the musterer's hut we built for a sleepout."

In the council's corrected estimate the rates for the home property are $1215, an amount Bollinger says is reasonable.

But the council wants more than twice that for the acre they own on the other side of the river, now also classed as residential, where they raise a lone cattle beast.

For that one paddock, measuring 0.4ha, the council wants $2671 a year in rates.

The paddock is made up of seven small sections - and for just one of them, measuring 607 square metres and divided again into two tiny titles, the rates will be $1015, according to the new formula.

An exasperated Bollinger said that to add insult to injury, one miniature title was still tagged multi-residential.

"They reckon they've corrected the errors - so how do they explain that? Do they want us to start selling off little sections and cramming more people into a rural place with no services?"

Blacks Point had been given special rating zone status some years ago when Canterbury people began buying up sections for holidays, inflating land values to unaffordable levels for the locals, he said.

"That special zone kept things fair, but this rating review wipes all that out. I wouldn't mind paying a bit more, but doubling anyone's rates overnight is not on. You can't say that's a fairer system."

Too much for too little

Bollinger's brother and sister-in-law Alun and Helen Bollinger, who also live in Blacks Point, said the council is demanding too much for too little.

Their rates were $1741 but soared to $4981 under the sample assessment.

After they complained the amount was reduced, but by only $1000, Helen Bollinger said.

"They are still asking more than $3000, for what? If this was Fendalton you could understand it maybe, but this is semi-rural Blacks Point ... all we have here is a rubbish collection."

The council should go back to the drawing board and redistribute its costs in a more equitable manner, she said.

Other residents in the small former mining settlement are facing rate rises of between $200 and $800 a year.

Small-holders in the Maruia Valley are also looking at rate hikes they say are unaffordable.

Retired businessman Bob Greer, who lives 8km from Springs Junction on the old Havills mill site, said his rates were set to jump from about $700 to $2600.

"But my neighbour has a similar block and two houses and he's being charged $700. If they set out to make the system more equitable they've failed, and they can't seem to see the stupidity of it, classing everything under 10 hectares as residential."

The council should shelve the rates review until the Te Tai o Poutini District Plan came into force in a couple of years, with properly-considered new zones across the West Coast, Greer said.

Submissions on the Buller District Council rates review close today.

Disclosure: LDR reporter Lois Williams lives at Blacks Point. Her property is made up of six small titles and her rates will go up by $120 under the new formula - an amount she thinks is reasonable.

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