Online tool compares various regions' rate burdens

MATT RILKOFF
Last updated 05:00 11/06/2014

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Taranaki's biggest council was one of the most indebted local government authorities in the country last year but also has one the greatest collection of assets.

In 2013 New Plymouth District Council had liabilities equivalent to $7607 for each of its 34,434 ratepayers. This made it the 10th most indebted council in the country.

However, with assets of $69,117 per ratepayer, it had the ninth highest equity level, or 9th largest value of assets minus liabilities.

By comparison, South Taranaki District Council had the 12th highest level of liabilities with $7164 for each of its 14,842 ratepayers and an equity level of $52,627.

Stratford District Council had just $698 of liabilities for each of its 4943 ratepayers and the country's 14th highest equity level at $59,619 per ratepayer.

The data has been collated by the Taxpayers' Union, a lobby group, from council reports and has been turned into an online tool, Ratepayers' Report (http://ratepayersreport.co.nz/), to allow residents to compare their local council with 67 territorial authorities across the country.

This data was checked by Fairfax Media and supplied to councils for them to review prior to publication.

The figures show in 2013 the SDC had the country's 24th highest average residential rates bill of $2104. At $1934, NPDC had the 37th highest while STDC had the country's 39th highest average residential rates bill at $1927.

The country's most expensive average 2013 residential rates bill was $3274 in the Western Bay of Plenty District. The lowest is $1104 in South Island's MacKenzie district.

NPDC's Barbara McKerrow was the country's 11th highest paid chief executive officer in 2013 with remuneration of $331,610. Her council was the country's 10th largest by number of ratepayers and 11th largest by population.

Craig Stevenson of STDC was the country's 23rd highest paid CEO in 2013 with $283,866 in remuneration. By population STDC was the country's 39th biggest council, while by number of ratepayers it was ranked 37th of 67.

Sue Davidson of SDC received remuneration of $177,500 last year, and just three council CEOs earned less than her. SDC was the country's seventh smallest council by ratepayer numbers in 2013 and the 9th smallest by population.

McKerrow yesterday said it was important to note the council's assets and liabilities included those of Tasman Farms which makes up a majority of its $203 million perpetual investment fund.

"In reality NPDC is in no way responsible for the liabilities of Tasman Farms and so this has the unfortunate effect of distorting the true financial position of NPDC.

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"Overall we are in a healthy position because our assets outweigh our liabilities by a factor of almost 10 to 1," she said.

McKerrow also said their average residential rates bill included targeted rates for water, refuse collection and sewerage.

"It is unlikely this will be the case across all councils in the Fairfax report," she said.

STDC chief executive Craig Stevenson questioned whether the report would enable genuine comparison of councils. "Councils are different. They offer different services and levels of service, rate in different ways and have different forms of income.

"So it's meaningless to compare one council's rates or debt with another unless you also consider the different services provided, their level of investments and the condition of their infrastructure," he said.

SDC chief executive Sue Davidson said comparisons were good to reflect on but were only valid if the services were the same.

- Taranaki Daily News

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