22 Feb 2012

Kaipara council given deadline to solve key problems

4:43 pm on 22 February 2012

A former Kaipara councillor says fellow councillors labelled him a stirrer for challenging the financial practices of the debt-ridden Kaipara District Council.

Bill Guest, who is also a Northland farming spokesperson, says he is disappointed the Minister of Local Government is giving the council till the end of April to sort out its finances, or be dissolved.

Mr Guest says during his time on the council the standard of financial reporting was abysmal - and because he held the finance portfolio he regularly complained.

Mr Guest says the councillors have shown demonstrable incompetence and the Minister should replace them immediately with a commissioner.

Minister of Local Government Nick Smith says he has put Kaipara District Council on notice and will consider replacing it with commissioners if necessary.

The district's mayor, Neil Tiller, has confirmed the small Northland rural district is facing massive rate rises to cope with its debt crisis.

And a report commissioned by the council has found it illegally levied $9 million worth of sewerage and forestry rates.

The council's new chief executive has also identified $4.5 million worth of errors in the annual plan.

The Minister says he has told the Kaipara District Council it has until the end of April to come up with a solution to key problems; inadequate financial reporting, the Mangawhai wastewater treatment scheme, debt management, infrastructure funding and rates.

Mr Guest says the council does not have enough competent people on board to dig itself out of its financial hole.

He says that when he demanded regular cash flow statements he was denounced as a stirrer, and even a devil by one councillor, who is a pastor.

Talks on amalgamation

Leaders of the Whangarei and Kaipara district councils are holding talks on Wednesday on the possibility of amalgamation.

Far North mayor Wayne Brown has proposed a restructuring of local government in the north, despite a failed attempt to sell the idea two years ago.

Mr Brown has proposed that Whangarei and the Far North divide Kaipara between them and become two unitary authorities, abolishing the regional council and dividing its assets.

Kaipara district mayor Neil Tiller says his district's community of interest is with Whangarei, not the Far North, and he does not favour splitting the district.

He says if Whangarei and Kaipara did amalgamate, Kaipara's $90 million debt would remain the liability of Kaipara ratepayers.