Kim Fulton is a NZME. News Service regional reporter

Councils' legal bills more than $2m

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Battling Mangawhai rates rebels contributed to Kaipara District Council's $1,150,038 legal bill last year.
Battling Mangawhai rates rebels contributed to Kaipara District Council's $1,150,038 legal bill last year.

More than $2 million has been spent in one year on legal advice for Northland councils.

In the most recent financial or calendar year, Northland's councils spent a total of $2,457,506 in legal fees, including Kaipara District Council $1,150,038; Whangarei District Council $460,000; Far North District Council $477,264 and Northland Regional Council $370,204.

NRC figures show the largest legal bill for a single court case was $31,653, spent on the prosecution of two Northland farmers who made cuts through a stopbank. The farmers carried out the illegal works on the Whangarei District Council-owned Hikurangi swamp flood management scheme to divert and discharge floodwater back into the Wairua River. One was fined $67,500 and the other $45,000.

NRC finance manager Simon Crabb said council would receive 90 per cent of both of those amounts.

Last year, the NRC spent $47,952 on three prosecutions in the district court, $24,602 on two prosecutions in the Environment Court and $21,619 on an Employment Relations Authority case.

It spent $10,069 on two resource consent appeals. The council spent $262,754 on other legal fees associated with commercial advice, property transactions, employment, local government and environmental legal advice and other appeals and legal opinions.

Meanwhile, WDC legal counsel Kathryn Candy said the majority of its bills related to leaky building claims, resource management issues and regulatory matters.

The KDC spent $1,150,038 on legal costs last financial year, up on $1,110,073 the previous year, and $518,552 in the 2012 to 2013 financial year.

Administration manager Linda Osborne said costs included court cases as well as non-litigation matters such as general advice. One of the council's cases involved taking Mangawhai rates rebels to court. The FNDC had so far spent $400,272 on legal costs for the current financial year, it spent $477,264 last financial year and $625,351 in the 2013 to 2014 financial year.

Legal services officer Alice Astell said legal costs could go towards environmental services including resource consent appeals, district governance and corporate services such as revenue recovery. They could also go towards infrastructure and asset management operations and roading.

Local Government New Zealand chief executive Malcolm Alexander said legal costs were part of doing business but councils should still look for the best value they could get. Councils were not allowed to issue infringement notices when bylaws had been breached but rather had to go to court, which was expensive. Councils could, for example, introduce a bylaw to prevent window washers on streets but then needed to decide if it was worth the cost of taking cases to court to enforce it. LGNZ wanted the Government to allow bylaws to be enforced through infringement notices to avoid court.

The numbers:

* Kaipara District Council: $1,150,038

* Whangarei District Council: $460,000

* Far North District Council: $477,264

* Northland Regional Council: $370,204

Total spend: $2,457,506

- Northern Advocate

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