Paradise under threat from its debt
A Coromandel settlement is under threat of forced liquidation if it cannot pay a $30,200 debt to council.
Wilderland, home to 20 people, is a self-reliant community and non-profitable charitable trust in the Coromandel Peninsula.
For 50 years, an evolving group of volunteers has lived a sustainable, holistic lifestyle on what was an abandoned farm.
The serenity has been threatened by Thames-Coromandel District Council, which has begun taking legal action against the trust.
The debt clock began ticking when buildings were erected on the Wilderlands property without building permits between 1970 and 1992.
In 2010, council deemed 13 of the buildings unsafe and insanitary.
Thames-Coromandel mayor Glenn Leach said council helped the trust bring the buildings to standard in 2012, which triggered resource consent fees and development contributions payments.
"We have bent over backwards to help them make these buildings safe and sanitary and get them to a permittable state."
"The arrangement, though, was for them to meet a payment plan to pay off development contributions."
In a statement, council lawyer Paul Davies said the Trust began paying $50 a week without any discussion or agreement from council.
Trust treasurer Simeon McLean said $5000 of the fees had been paid off in the last two years.
Efforts have been made with council to reach a compromise that was acceptable to both parties, but no agreement could be reached, he said.
"We have about 20 people living on the premises and we have a total annual gross income of about $70,000, so that doesn't leave a hell of a lot on money for an unexpected bill of $30,000."
Davies said the current $50 per week payment plan would mean the debt would take 10 years to pay off, placing an unfair burden on ratepayers.
McLean said management has tried to establish a contingency plan to avoid losing their paradise but banks were unwilling to give them a loan.
When asked what would happen in the worst-case scenario, McLean paused.
"I guess we would have to go and find somewhere else to try and change the world."
Trust chair Russel Mooyman is the longest-serving resident at Wilderland, having called the place home for 5 years. He has a baby due next month.
"The council's threat to force a land sale could put an end to 50 years of inspiring people to grow a better world," Mooyman said.