Council seeks bill to fix rating mistake

HELEN MURDOCH
Last updated 13:00 26/09/2012

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The Tasman District Council is backing a local bill to Parliament to close a loophole that leaves it open to rating challenges.

The council created the five-year window when it failed to follow the correct process setting its rates from 2003 to 2008.

At the time, the council passed rates attached to the body of annual plan agenda, rather than ratifying each rate individually.

The Tasman District Council (Validation and Recovery of Certain Rates) Bill will legalise all the council's rates set and money and penalties paid over the period, authorise the council to recover any unpaid rates and ratify the Tata Beach and Ligar Bay stormwater rate.

Tata Beach resident Bob Schmuke said the council's proposed bill showed how vulnerable it was to legal challenges from ratepayers.

If the council's rates had not been set correctly, then taking them was illegal, he said.

He hoped the parliamentary select committee would turn down Tasman's legislative attempt to close the loophole, particularly the stormwater rates, which he said were set illegally when the council established an Urban Drainage Area (UDA) for Tata Beach in 2006.

Mr Schmuke had taken the issue to the Ombudsman after 2006, who found the UDA over Tata Beach and Ligar Bay had not been legally established and stormwater rates should not have been charged.

"The Ombudsman said the decision to adopt an annual plan was not a decision to adopt a rate.

"He said regardless of all the other rates set at the time, the UDA was never legally set in place and therefore the council could never charge rates on it."

He had met Tasman District Mayor Richard Kempthorne and chief executive Lindsay McKenzie this month and said they admitted the stormwater rate had been set illegally, he said.

"We never wanted to be an UDA and didn't even know about it until the rates came out. But we've been paying the rate for the last six years and we still don't have stormwater in Tata Beach and Ligar Bay.

"Now [the council] wants to go to Parliament to validate a mistake it made. Why should it have that ability?"

Mr Schmuke estimated the council had spent almost $100,000 on two rounds of legal advice and in taking the bill to Parliament. It should be talking to ratepayers about what they wanted, rather than turning to Parliament to correct its mistakes, he said.

West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O'Connor will meet the Tata Beach-Ligar Bay ratepayers to discuss the matter next Thursday from 9.30am at 178 Cornwall Pl, Tata Beach.

The council's corporate services manager, Murray Staite, said the council accepted a mistake had been made and it needed to be corrected. "This is not just about the stormwater rates for Tata Beach and Ligar Bay. This is all the council's rates."

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The rates were set for good reason at the time, Mr Staite said. Only a few ratepayers still owed money from the period and most were not significant.

"We don't really have issues with late or non-payment, but in order to collect them we have to set them correctly."

The local bill was not about "changing anything the council did not agree to, but correcting a technical issue".

The council had spent about $35,000 preparing the bill, another $2000 to process it through Parliament, about $26,000 on its first legal opinion and just over $4500 reimbursing Mr Schmuke's legal costs, he said. He did not have the figure to hand of the cost of the second legal opinion. The bill might be before a select committee early next year, and introduced to Parliament six months later.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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