15 Sep 2017

Dover Samuels: Don't make ratepayers pay for appeal

7:27 pm on 15 September 2017

Northland ratepayers should not have to foot the bill for an appeal against a High Court decision over unlawful rates, former Far North politician Dover Samuels says.

Dover Samuels

Dover Samuels said the council was assured by lawyers and by Local Government New Zealand that the practice of delegating rates collection was lawful. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

The Northland Regional Council has announced it will challenge the recent ruling that quashed years of rates charged on its behalf by the Kaipara District Council.

Mr Samuels said when he was a regional councillor, the council sought advice on whether the practice of delegating rates collection was lawful.

He said the council was assured by the lawyers and by Local Government New Zealand that it was, and that it was standard practice.

Mr Samuels said Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) should now take responsibility, pay for the appeal and seek a law change.

"They are the engine-room of local government, and they've come out in support of the (delegation) process and very clearly the High Court has a different opinion," he said.

Northland Regional Council chair Bill Shepherd said LGNZ had not offered the council legal advice though the council had discussed the rates issue with it on several occasions.

Local Government New Zealand said it did not advise councils on legal matters.

However, it said the practice of delegating rates collection to territorial authorities dated back to 1989.

A spokesman said an amendment to the Local Government Act in 2002 had given regional councils the authority to collect rates on their own behalf and a number now did that.

Mr Shepherd said he was aware of four other regional councils which still delegated rates collection to territorial authorities, and it had briefed Internal Affairs on the situation following the recent High Court decision.

The High Court last month quashed regional council rates for the Kaipara District for the past five years, along with penalties, in a case brought by the Mangawhai Ratepayers' Association and Bruce and Heather Rogan.

There was no requirement for the council to refund the rates.

The court found while the council had acted in good faith, and might have fallen victim to legislation that was less precise than it should be, it had still failed to comply with the law applying to rates collection.

Mr Shepherd said the Northland Regional Council would ask for an urgent hearing by the Court of Appeal.

"The council is also asking Internal Affairs for a law change to clarify the section of the Rating Act covering rates collection arrangements," Mr Shepherd said.

Mr Samuels said the High Court decision potentially affected all regional councils that allowed district councils to collect rates on their behalf, and Local Government New Zealand, rather than Northland ratepayers, should foot the bill for any appeal.

"They should get their act together in the interests of the ratepayers - I don't believe one more dollar should be spent by the Northland Regional Council in advancing this appeal," he said.

The appeal is expected to cost the Northland Regional Council up to $190,000.

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