Pest eradication rate of $50 to be reset

By Lindy Laird

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Whangarei Heads residents Richard and Bernadette Schofield pictured last year when they refused to pay the NRC levy, saying kiwi conservation is a national issue, not one for local rates. The rate has been given the thumbs up after a review.
Whangarei Heads residents Richard and Bernadette Schofield pictured last year when they refused to pay the NRC levy, saying kiwi conservation is a national issue, not one for local rates. The rate has been given the thumbs up after a review.

A special pest eradication rate of $50 per property at Whangarei Heads has been given the thumbs up - again - by Northland Regional Council after an investigation into the levy's validity.

The council agreed at its meeting on Tuesday that the rate on 2000 properties could be reset without further ado, after it was put on hold while its legality was investigated.

Council chairman Bill Shepherd described the reset as "a prudent, precautionary step" to remove future challenges.

A legal opinion confirmed there had been "material compliance" with the requirements under the Biosecurity Act relating to special projects rating, Mr Shepherd said.

The Whangarei Heads Pest Management Rate is thought to be the first of its kind in New Zealand and covers about 10,000 hectares from Parua Bay to Bream Head. Some Heads residents objected to paying the levy.

The decision to reset it means the $103,000 per annum net can be spread as outlined in the Long Term Plan 2105-2025 without the need for further public submissions or consultation on the issue.

The council will notify ratepayers through public notices.

"Council is confident it complied with (Biosecurity Act) section 100T at that time, but will reset the rate as this is the most prudent option and manages future potential risk should the setting of the rate be challenged legally," Mr Shepherd said.

He said 225 ratepayers responded to the rate suggestion through LTP submissions last year, of which 61 per cent agreed with it and 25 per cent objected.

One challenger was Heads resident Tony Mercer, who claimed the rate, targeting animal and plant pests, was arbitrary and did not comply with the Biosecurity Act. The Act states that anyone having to pay a rate for a special project must get "direct or indirect" benefit from it.

Residents Richard and Bernadette Schofield were among locals who refused to pay it, saying they were being picked on because they had the national iconic bird, the kiwi, in their area.

They argued its protection was a nationally significant issue and should not be subject of a local rate.

They were unavailable yesterday for comment on the rate being reset.

Kiwi, along with a range of wildlife, have been reintroduced to the area by Department of Conservation or are reproducing naturally in an area already managed by DOC and the Bream Bay Conservation Trust, with the help of central government funding, corporate support and existing local government rates input.

Council chief executive Malcolm Nicolson said although the council was aware some individuals within the targeted rate area were opposed to the rate, there did not seem to be widespread concern.

Corporate services manager Dave Tams said no figure was available yet regarding the costs of the legal opinion and other measures related to the review.

- Northern Advocate

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