Targeted rate case heads to court

By Lawrence Gullery

A legal challenge taking the Hastings District Council to task over the validity of a targeted rate could be the first of its kind tried in New Zealand.

The council will be asked in the High Court to justify its use of a targeted rate to recoup some of the $1.17 million it spent buying the Waimarama Domain in 2011.

The Society of Mary was looking to sell the domain in 2010 but the council stepped in to buy it so it could remain in public ownership.

The council believed there was substantial private benefit to the adjoining landowners and therefore it was those landowners who should share the cost of the purchase.

Janis Tacon was the only property owner out of 19 around the domain who refused to pay the targeted rate.

It was a one-off payment of $23,000 per property or $3148 per year, over 10 years.

Ms Tacon's legal counsel Bill Calver presented to the council's long-term plan in June, outlining his client's objection to paying for an asset "which would be owned by the council".

The deadline to pay the targeted rate was July and this week Mr Calver confirmed his client had instructed him to "file legal action".

"I have filed for a declaratory judgment which is an act of Parliament where you can apply to the High Court to get legislation or documents interpreted.

"And we are asking for a ruling from the court whether the targeted rate in this case is lawful and validly levied under the rating legislation."

Mr Calver said a conference was set down in November for a judge to determine when the matter would be dealt with.

"My hope is that we get an early fixture, as soon as possible."

The council had obtained a legal opinion on whether it could administer a targeted rate of this kind but refused Mr Calver's request to make the information public.

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

Mr McLeod said the contribution and targeted rate had the consent of the "vast majority of the adjoining land owners" who agreed having the council purchase the domain would ensure the value of their coastal properties was protected.

"The property owner who is taking the action against council is the only one who has not agreed to contribute," he said.

Hastings District Council ($510,000) and Hawke's Bay Regional Council ($300,000) both contributed to the $1.17 million cost of the land, with the balance of $360,000 being contributed by the adjoining landowners.

Mr McLeod said the council's legal advice gave it confidence to defend the legal action.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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