In February the Tararua District Council's finance team will present a report to councillors on how to recover about $1 million in outstanding rates from owners of abandoned land, council's finance manager told councillors this week.

"There are owners who have walked away, or are unknown, [who are in rates arrears] and we do have powers under the act for the sale of these properties," Cameron McKay, council's finance manager, said.

If councillors approve the sale of abandoned land to recover debts, council will advertise in March next year for the last known owners to come forward and clear the rates arrears. If payment isn't made after a month, council can seek judgment through the district court to sell the properties.

The council is using Debt Management Central and Mr McKay said the company had a good reputation in pushing for the recovery of outstanding rates and arrears.


Southern councillor Andy Thompson asked if there was a point when the debt was written off.

However, council chief executive Blair King said by using Debt Management Central, a local authority shared service company, council had the opportunity of collectively trying to recover the debt.

"Yes the company may cost us more, but it comes down to staff time to chase these arrears which have compounded over five, six and seven years," he said.

"They [rates arrears] are significantly aged.

"When we set the rates we are aware of a very small percentage, 1 to 3 per cent, of our $22m rates bill which is attracting penalties. But with land worth $5000, the average rates arrears $8000 and $1500 to go through the process, by sharing collection with other councils such as Horizons Regional Council we can collectively have a crack at them."

Councillor Shirley Hull said she and fellow councillor Carole Isaacson had had a very good meeting with Mr McKay and an indepth discussion on the debtors management report.

"I'd like to think of ourselves as a friendly council," Mrs Hull said.

"But with the debt getting to a high level, we need to keep our finger on the pulse."

Councillor Jim Crispin said a lot of the abandoned land was small, uneconomic parcels.

"They're difficult properties to collect on, but it's time now to get into it."