Urgent hearing sought for appeals against Mangawhai rates rulings

13 Sep 2017

The Northland Regional Council (NRC) is to file an appeal against a recent High Court decision quashing several years of its rates in the Kaipara district and is seeking to appeal the court's earlier related decision which found two issues with the council's rating practices.

These issues were how council set due dates for the payment of rates and its arrangements for rate collection within the Kaipara district.  The council is also seeking an urgent hearing for the appeals.

The High Court last month made an order setting aside the regional council’s rates for the Kaipara district for the five rating years 2011/12 to 2015/16 inclusive and any penalties imposed by – or on behalf of – NRC over that same period.

However, the High Court was clear that there was to be no order requiring the council to refund the rates and penalties involved, despite finding for the plaintiffs (the Mangawhai Ratepayers and Residents Association and Richard Bruce Rogan and Heather Elizabeth Rogan) on the legal status of the rates.

Soon after the release of the most recent High Court decision, regional council chairman Bill Shepherd said at the heart of the case – which had implications for local authorities nationally –  was the council’s use of its Kaipara district counterpart to collect rates on its behalf.

Chairman Shepherd confirmed Wednesday, 13 September that appeal documents will be filed with the Court of Appeal.

He says in its decision, the High Court had noted the NRC had acted in good faith with the judge commenting the council “may have fallen victim to legislation that was less precise than it needed to be”.

With that in mind, in addition to the appeal, Chairman Shepherd says the council will also approach the Department of Internal Affairs asking it for a law change clarifying the section of the Rating Act covering rates collection arrangements.

Chairman Shepherd says that if an urgent hearing is granted, the council's appeals could potentially be heard before a three-member bench of the Court of Appeal within three to five months; much less than the nine to 12 months likely under a standard appeal.

Initial estimates were that the appeal could cost the NRC in the order of $170,000 to $190,000.

While appealing will be costly, the council feels the issues at stake are too important not to appeal.  The collection of rates by the district councils in the region on behalf of the regional council provides significant cost savings which benefit the region's ratepayers.

Referring to the years at the centre of the High Court case, Chairman Shepherd says ratepayers can be assured “our council has not acted irresponsibly and blatantly flouted the law”.

“We have arranged the collection of our rates by the Kaipara, Whangarei and Far North District Councils using standard sector practice in the interests of saving our ratepayers the additional cost of maintaining a separate rates collection department within our council.”

Chairman Shepherd says it’s also important to remember that all the rates collected during the years covered by the court case had been spent in good faith on a wide range of projects and work programmes that had been clearly outlined in the relevant Annual and/or Long Term Plans at the time.

“These plans are widely consulted on and outline how we fulfil our purpose for our communities; including outlining how much we will collect in rates and how and where we will spend them.”

Lastly, he says it’s important to remember the judge’s decisions do not relate to the rates for the current financial year, or the 2016/17 financial year.