Council hides targeted rate legal advice

By Lawrence Gullery

A lawyer representing a Waimarama property owner refusing to pay a $23,000 targeted rate is challenging Hastings District Council to make public a legal opinion on whether the rate is permissible.

The council bought the Waimarama Domain in 2011 for $1.1 million to keep it in public ownership, then put a targeted rate on neighbouring property owners on Airini Rd to share the cost of the purchase.

Legal counsel Bill Calver said he believed the council had acted "unlawfully" and the targeted rate was "outside the gamut of the rating statute".

His clients, Gordon Kinnear and Janis Tacon, were the only property owners out of 19 around the domain to oppose the targeted rate, which was a one-off lump payment of $23,000 per property or $3148 per year, over 10 years.

Mr Calver said the council had a legal opinion on the targeted rate but would not share it. "I've asked the council to provide a copy of the opinion but they would not give it me one on the grounds of legal privilege, which gives them the right to refuse to supply a copy.

"If they were on sound ground, I believe they would provide a copy of the opinion."

Hawke's Bay Today also asked the council for a copy but was declined by the council's chief executive Ross McLeod.

"This is to protect legal professional privilege and specifically to protect council's interests in any legal action that might be brought against it," Mr McLeod said.

Mr Calver said the council also took legal advice on whether GST was payable and that information was supplied to land owners.

"The council needs to front up and say whether it is legally justified. They might have a lawyer who has a brilliant reason why the target rate is permissible."

Mr Calver said other property owners around the domain would have come to a different conclusion if they had "taken good advice". He thought the council misled them with the idea that the domain might otherwise be developed, on the assumption this would devalue existing housing.

"The contrary argument could be that development may have enhanced the value of the properties along Airini Rd."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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