Mayor says sorry for Tata Beach rates error

CHARLOTTE SQUIRE
Last updated 13:00 20/03/2014

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Tasman District's mayor has apologised to residents of Golden Bay's Tata Beach for a council mistake that led to the entire district's rates being wrongly set from 2003 to 2008.

The apology comes in the light of the second reading of the Tasman Validation Bill in Parliament.

The bill will ratify the stormwater rate, and the way the council rated the entire district from 2003 to 2008. It will fix the council's rating errors so it does not face legal challenges from ratepayers.

The issue began in 2006 when Tata Beach ratepayer Bob Schmuke spoke out against stormwater rates and the establishment of urban drainage areas which he said meant they were paying for services they weren't using.

At the time the Tasman District Council admitted it had made a mistake in not following correct legal process and eventually reimbursed Mr Schmuke for his legal costs. To rectify their mistake the TDC drafted the new bill.

The Tasman District Council (Validation and Recovery of Certain Rates) Bill will mean Tasman homeowners can no longer challenge rate charges.

Mayor Richard Kempthorne said he was "happy to apologise" for the tremendous amount of time the issue had taken "by not having the drainage map in the Long Term Plan that discussed the inclusion of Tata Beach into the Tasman District's urban drainage area".

"It's very regrettable," he said.

The mayor's apology also comes in response to Mr Schmuke's request for a sincere apology to the people of Tata Beach for the way they were treated by the council when they raised the alarm about the rates. "Never once have they come to the residents of Tata Beach and apologised or admitted they were wrong . . . even after the Ombudsman's report they've never apologised for what was wrong," said Mr Schmuke.

He estimated the council had spent about $100,000 on legal opinions to justify its position to uphold the stormwater rate, which property owners have paid since the council established an urban drainage area over the coastal towns in 2006.

Mr Schmuke took his case to the Ombudsman who considered the stormwater rate illegitimate and, in the course of examining the council's process, found the entire district's rates had been improperly set from 2003 to 2008.

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

Mr Schmuke also said he'd like council to hold an "honest poll" with the Tata Beach ratepayers with one question: do you want to be in an urban drainage area in Tata Beach or Ligar Bay - yes or no?"

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However Mr Kempthorne said the council reconsulted once they realised the map wasn't in the document. "The whole of Tata Beach ratepayers were asked what they wanted to do . . . but a small majority of people wanted to stay in the urban drainage area," he said.

During the select committee process, West Coast-Tasman Labour MP Damien O'Connor, who sponsored the bill, said there were a number of lessons in the process for not only the Tasman District Council and its staff and councillors but also many councils up and down this country.

Mr O'Connor said he brought the bill to Parliament "somewhat reluctantly" as "no-one is a fan of retrospective legislation".

"It is never a good look to have retrospective legislation to rectify failures that have occurred, and this bill effectively validates the actions of a council that failed to follow proper process and to meet the requirements of the Local Government Act," he said.

Mr O'Connor praised the efforts of the Tata Beach residents for speaking up about paying a rate they considered was not valid.

"They have not been receiving specific water drainage services but, indeed, were asked by the council to pay a rate. They have been angry and frustrated. It was, indeed, their follow-through that alerted the Tasman District Council to the mistakes across other areas of its rate demands."

The bill is expected to have its third and final reading around April 9.

- The Nelson Mail

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