Northland's district councils have generally scored badly in the Local Government League Table - with Kaipara rating the worst out of New Zealand's 67 local authorities.
The two-position fall from its 65th place last year is in sharp contrast to the council's 2009 rating as one of the best performing small councils in the country, when it was rated in 16th position.
The only exception to a fairly bleak picture is the Far North, which made a marked improvement and pulled itself up from 55th place in 2012 to 37th.
Whangarei held on to its 62nd position in this year's table.
In compiling the league table, local government finance and policy analyst Larry Mitchell ranks each of the councils according to financial sustainability, and the affordability of council rates and charges to their local communities.
Kaipara's total 18 out of a possible 50 was made up of a council financial sustainability score of just six out of 25, the lowest in the country, and a community affordability score of 12 out of 25, the third-lowest in the country.
Mr Mitchell notes serious financial difficulties and high debt continue to plague Kaipara, with some ratepayers still refusing to pay their rates over allegations of rating illegalities. "If these strikes continue, Kaipara's difficulties could get worse," he said.
John Robertson, chair of the government-appointed commissioners who took over from elected members in September 2012, says the table is somewhat unfair.
"Mr Mitchell's work is based on the audited 2012 annual plan, prepared by the last council, and on trends that developed under elected members when they were struggling to cope."
He said: "The picture Mr Mitchell paints for Kaipara is based on the past, including a [past] poor governance record. This situation is changing fast, with the appointment of commissioners, and under the leadership of the new chief executive and management team."
He noted soon-to-be-tabled amendments to the long-term plan will trim costs and reduce the council's risk. "The losses permitted by the previous councils have ended, debt has been capped, and a plan implemented to reduce the $80 million debt to $50 million by 2022," he said. Contingent liabilities of $17 million would disappear once the local bill tabled tomorrow night to validate was passed.