FNDC rates to be postponed

FNDC has denied writing off more than $36,000 in rates, although a sum of that nature appears likely to be remitted.

Communications manager Richard Edmondson said four years of rates would be postponed under a policy aimed at encouraging the economic development of Maori freehold land. Those rates would remain as a charge on the property for six years from the date on which they were struck, but may be remitted after six years if the lessee pays current and future rates within one month of the due dates.

Rate demands had not been issued to the lessee until earlier this year, he added, because the owners did not inform the council that they had leased the land until October 1 this year. The fact that the land was not managed according to a formal administrative structure, had no direct road frontage or street address also made it difficult to contact the owners/lessee.

It was true that the council had invoiced the owner without providing an explanation or options, but a council officer had spoken to the lessee to confirm lease activities before the invoice was sent, and with one of the owners soon after, to explain options available under council policies.

Allegations that staff did not follow council policies or rating legislation were disputed. The rates had been postponed according to its postponement of rates on Maori freehold land policy. Any decision to remit those rates in the future would depend on the lessee complying with that policy.

"Council also disputes the allegation that three other ratepayers face rating increases as a result of 'catch-up' adjustments and wrongly-keyed data," Mr Edmondson continued.

"Council does not increase rates to recover unpaid rates. It strikes rates after councillors adopt the annual plan, which sets rates for the year. Staff are happy to explain why a person's rates have increased.

"Finally, council does not send rates invoices to empty sections with no letter boxes or to people with no interest in Maori freehold land if it can't find an owner. Staff try very hard to keep the rating database up to date by monitoring returned mail and working closely with the Maori Land Court to obtain current addresses of owners of Maori freehold land blocks. However, with more than 3645 blocks of Maori freehold land in the district, it is the responsibility of land owners to notify council of ratepayer or mailing address changes."

Mr Edmondson gave an assurance that rating errors as referred to (for some it's a refund) were not common. Staff had audited all ratepayer accounts that had been separated for rating purposes after discovering this ratepayer had been overcharged, and found only one account where the ratepayer had been overcharged. That was corrected immediately.

"Council notified the ratepayers that they may be eligible for an exemption for a uniform annual general charge for a worker's cottage, but there is no record of an application ever being made," he said.

"Council tries very hard to keep its rating database and accounts up to date. However, with 35,974 rating accounts to manage, it is the responsibility of ratepayers to inform staff if their property details on the database or annual rates assessment are incorrect. Council places annual advertisements in newspapers asking people to check their details on the database, which is on council's website."

- Northland Age

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