Tagging-related vandalism has dropped sharply in Whangarei, though at a cost, with more than $450,000 spent removing 72,349 scrawls over the past three years.
Whangarei District Council contractors removed 31,159 tags in the 2013-14 financial year but this had dropped to 12,558 in the first 10 months of this financial year.
WDC's contractor D'Tag, managed by Te Ora Hou Youth Development, de-tagged residential and commercial properties as well as council sites.
Jobs were prioritised depending on public visibility. Spray can graffiti, as well as things like etchings and maker pen tags were all recorded in the council's StopTags database.
Te Ora Hou manager Lou Davis said the key to curbing tagging was information sharing, working with youth at an individual level and "not letting it linger".
Mr Davis said he asked taggers to consider the wider implications of their actions.
"We say, think about your mum or your grandma, if she came out and saw this, how do you think she'd feel?"
In some cases, getting youth to channel their artistic skills into other avenues worked well. One upcoming Te Ora Hou project would see a group of young artists in a mentorship programme paint a large public mural, possibly at one of the entranceways to the city.
"There's incredibly talented young people who can do some amazing things with a spray can," Mr Davis said. "We also understand there's young people out there just scribbling marks that aren't artistic."
He said statistics showing tagging was down were reflected in what his D'Tag team were seeing.
"It's about removing it quickly [and] when numbers are down we can get to the lower-profile jobs we normally don't have time to get to - say a suburban alleyway."
A lot of recent tagging in Whangarei seemed to be based around Kensington and the Kamo bypass, he said.
In the Far North, council contractors spent about $42,329 removing 611 tags over three years, while in Kaipara 290 tagging incidents cost about $15,000.
Northland Regional Council's vandalism bill was small, as it only had to act when one of its four offices were targeted.
WDC community services manager Owen Thomas said the Whangarei council had chosen to focus on tagging, describing it as a "gateway crime".
"We have been working with graffiti vandalism for a long time and my staff and I know that if left unchecked, bad choices such as vandalism go on to become worse offending and the impact of this to our community - and often our young people's futures - can be far more costly," he said.
Mr Thomas put the decline in tagging in Whangarei down to collaboration between council, police, City Safe and youth social services.
"It's also imperative to remove graffiti vandalism quickly or it perpetuates the problem - this isn't cheap and we are the largest urban centre in Northland," he said.
Senior Sergeant John Fagan, area prevention manager for Whangarei and Kaipara, said the punishment for offenders depended on their age, scale of tagging and previous history.
Punishment could include warnings, Youth Aid Section action through to prosecution and pre-charge warnings for adults.
Tags and costs:
* Whangarei District Council spent $458,807 removing 72,349 tags in the last three financial years.
* Far North District Council spent $42,329 removing 611 tags in the last two years and four months.
* Kaipara District Council spent about $15,080 removing 290 tags over the last three years.
* Northland Regional Council spent about $300 on removing tags in the past three years.