Angry residents refusing to pay Kaipara District Council rates will now have to cough up after the introduction of new legislation in Parliament.
The Kaipara District Council (Validation of Rates and Other Matters) Bill passed its final reading 112 to 8 on Wednesday night.
The move is the latest in a long-running dispute dating back to April 2012 when residents rose in protest because the council set its rates to pay for a wastewater scheme at Mangawhai that had doubled in cost to about $63.5 million.
But the same residents had been questioning the scheme's process since 2006.
Rates went up by an average 31 per cent across the district - and by about 700 per cent at some Mangawhai properties.
Some people questioned the legality of the move and have since refused to pay.
A report by Auditor General Lyn Provost confirms what many have said all along.
It blames the blowout on poor governance, lax management and record keeping, saying the former council agreed to costly and complicated financing arrangements it did not understand.
The bill was sponsored into Parliament by Northland MP Mike Sabin but was not supported by NZ First or the Mana party.
"We believe that retrospective legislation is absolutely the worst way to deal with this because it exonerates the guilty," NZ First list MP Andrew Williams.
"There needs to be proper police investigations carried out at the highest levels and the people responsible should be held to account," Mr Williams says. Councillors are not legally liable for the debt but Mr Andrews says a number of parties still have questions to answer.
Included is Audit New Zealand, which failed to properly audit the council.
Mana Party leader Hone Harawira also wants more people held accountable. "It rankles that the burden of repayment falls on the Kaipara community who were not responsible for incurring the debt.
"We shouldn't just be passing this bill without taking some serious action against some of these senior leaders."
Mr Harawira says the bill is the first step towards similar bailouts such as the Tasman District Council (Validation and Recovery of Certain Rates) Bill.
"These bills are coming thick and fast and nobody is being made to pay."
Mr Sabin says neither party came up with an alternative workable solution.
"It is important to note that a clause in the bill ensures explicitly that the passing of the legislation doesn't absolve anyone of responsibility and allows for the council or any others to take action so wrongdoing and culpability can be pursued."
Ratepayers who settle their accounts by June 30, 2014 will not be charged penalties.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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