As A government review team comes in to assist the Kaipara District Council, a rating suggests it needs the help.
The council has taken a hammering in a "league table" rating the performance of New Zealand's 67 councils, tumbling from 16th place last year to 65th on the Local Government League Table in the past year.
It also received a double "red traffic light downgrade" warning.
With debt exceeding $80 million on the back of a controversial wastewater scheme in Mangawhai, and an unpopular 31 per cent average rates hike proposal in the draft long-term plan, analyst Larry Mitchell of Puhoi had little mercy in his rankings.
It was the biggest downgrade of all councils on the league table, based on financial sustainability and community affordability for council rates and charges.
"The really terrifying thing is not the fact that the KDC is not at the bottom of the league table, but the time it took to get there," Mangawhai Residents and Ratepayers Association president Bruce Rogan says.
The council has sought help from central government and the wider local government sector. Local Government Minister David Carter will appoint a review team to help the council.
Kaipara mayor Neil Tiller says the council asked for help because there were some big challenges and a strategy was needed "to move to a more positive place". He stressed the help sought was not financial.
"Despite what some people may think, central government is not going to bail us out financially. The debt is ours and we need to find a way of repaying that debt which recognises the community's ability to pay and is sustainable. No one else is going to pay this debt on our behalf."
Auditor-General Lyn Provost decided to carry out an inquiry into the council's management of the Mangawhai Waste Water scheme in March, after being invited to do so by the council.
And since that time some residents have refused to pay rates, and the residents association made an official police complaint against the council for "taking monies by deceit".
More than 2000 people took part in a protest march in Mangawhai, and a submission opposing the council's proposed long-term plan was signed by about 1500 people.
"It has become apparent that the Kaipara District Council is dealing with some serious issues that it cannot cope with alone," Mr Carter says.
But Mr Rogan has low expectations of the review team, calling it "window dressing".
"They are hoping that by putting a couple of Sir Colin Meads, Sir Paul Reeves, and Sir Edmund Hillary types in there the public will say, `Well, if it can't be fixed by people of that calibre, it can't be fixed at all and we'll just have to take our lumps'."
The council is set to continue with its long term plan consultation and hearings in order to adopt it by the end of June and set its rates for the 2012-2013 financial year. Plan submissions closed last Wednesday. There were meetings yesterday in Maungaturoto and today in Mangawhai for submissions.
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