3 Nov 2014

Rates rebels advised to pay council

6:18 pm on 3 November 2014

The leaders of Mangawhai's rates rebellion are now advising people to pay their arrears, rather than face court action.

For two years, hundreds of people in the small Northland town have been withholding their rates in protest at the Kaipara District Council's borrowing of $60 million for a mismanaged sewerage scheme.

Two years ago, the council was sacked and replaced with commissioners, after it borrowed to extend the scheme and raised rates without telling ratepayers. That was unlawful, the council spiralled into debt and the Auditor-General has apologised for the error Audit New Zealand made in not picking up the mistakes.

The High Court ruled that the borrowing was illegal, but found it could not invalidate the rates levied to pay the debt because Parliament subsequently passed a special bill validating them.

The Mangawhai Ratepayers Association said today if people want to continue fighting the council via their rates it would help them mount a defence. However, president Bruce Rogan said the council was now serving people with summonses.

Mr Rogan said today that the action had served its purpose and the fight has moved to the Court of Appeal. He said there was no point in piling up penalties and giving the council more money.

"Either we take a stand against this destruction of our democracy, or we let them drive the tanks over us. What we're saying is that we don't think that it's worth taking the risk of going past the end of the calendar year - because at the end of the calendar year council, theoretically, has the right to impose a further 10 percent penalty on all outstanding rates."

Ratepayers were now waiting for a date to be set for the court hearing, he said.

Kaipara District Council chairperson and Commissioner John Robertson said it is pleased the rates rebellion was effectively over.

"We've had a lot of payments come in over the last two months anyway, but that's good news. There's really no purpose it seems to us for the protest to continue."

Mr Robertson said at its peak, it left the council budget short of $6 million, but that figure was now down to $2 million.

The council owes $76 million - most of it for the Mangawhai sewerage scheme.

The Mangawhai Ratepayers' Association is thought to be the largest in New Zealand, with 1000 members - although the town itself has only about 1200 permanent residents.

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