'Civil disobedience' to 31% rate hike predicted

By Annette Lambly

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An inquiry team from the Office of the Auditor-General is to meet again with Mangawhai residents refusing to pay Kaipara District Council's proposed average 31 per cent rate hike.

About 530 people attended a public meeting on Sunday to hear Nicola Whyte from the Office of the Auditor General discuss how the the audit office team was to conduct the planned review of the council.

Mangawhai Residents & Ratepayers Association chairman Bruce Rogan said analysis of what happened would not cure the rates problem.

Sunday's meeting is one of several held since the council released its controversial draft long term plan.

The council has the highest net debt per capita of the country's 67 territorial councils and the plan took an aggressive debt reduction approach with massive rate hikes. Much of the debt relates to the Mangawhai's sewerage scheme blowout after costs rose from $36 million in 2006 to $60m.

A quarter of the 2100 Mangawhai ratepayers are refusing to pay rates - and affordability is only one factor - legal questions have been raised around past striking of the rates.

"Council will have to go through receivership or bankruptcy to get rid of this debt," Mr Rogan said. "It's unsustainable and there is no way it can get the rates to pay its way out.

"There will be civil disobedience on a big scale - I would say 500 will not pay the new rate," he said.

On Monday, a spokesman for the Office of the Auditor-General said the inquiry team would go to Mangawhai on July 12, 13 and 14 to hear the views of those home owners who had made appointments.

At the meeting, the office promised independent scrutiny of the role played by members of its business arm, Audit New Zealand, in vetting the council's plans.

On June 14, a government-appointed review team comprising of Northland businessman Greg Gent, former Manukau City chief executive Leigh Auton and former New Plymouth Mayor Peter Tennant was announced to assist Kaipara with addressing its issues. The council is to meet with the team this Friday.

Chief executive Steve Ruru said yesterday: "It is important to remember we are still in the deliberation process. The council has made no final decisions on the striking of rates."

- Northern Advocate

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