Rates rise 8pc to pay for 'PC nuttiness'

By Anne Beston

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As big, fat rates bills are about to arrive in letterboxes all over the country, local councils are accused of being "pseudo-tax collectors" for the Government.

The National Party has produced what it says is a random list of 29 councils showing rates increases three times the rate of inflation and average rises around the country of more than 8 per cent.

Only one - the Otago Regional Council - had a rise of less than 4 per cent, and the highest was Environment Canterbury's 21 per cent.

"We did not manipulate the figures in any way, we simply phoned through to councils we could get hold of and asked them their increases," said National local government spokesman John Carter.

He said 60 pieces of legislation over the past five years had shifted more responsibility to councils - everything from the new dog microchipping law to policing food standards at rural markets.

"I have not been able to find a single case of food poisoning from a rural market, or any market for that matter," Mr Carter said.

"It's all just PC nuttiness."

Former North Shore City councillor David Thornton, who led a "rates rebellion" against the Auckland Regional Council in 2003, agreed, saying North Shore City bought Devonport Wharf for $2.9 million last month.

"What for? It's got one commercial building on it."

Rates rebates for people on low incomes were another reason for the increases: "In their very devious way, councils simply put up the rates to everyone else a bit more."

Local Government New Zealand spokesman Mike Reid questioned whether Mr Carter's list was truly random and said rates rises varied around the country.

The rates rebate scheme's new threshold meant rebates of up to $500 for people with incomes up to $20,000.

That was bigger than any of the rises, he said.

The country's growth hotspots, such as Tauranga and Queenstown, also had higher rates rises.

Mr Reid did not think big rises were eroding ratepayer goodwill towards councils.

"If the money is going to mean less traffic on the roads or better quality water then I would hope people would see the value in it," he said.

Local Government Minister Mark Burton said he saw no evidence councils were experimenting with ratepayer money.

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