Homeowners in the Western Bay district are still paying the highest average rates in New Zealand, according to the Taxpayers' Union's annual residential rates ranking.

The mayor blamed his district's high ranking on the cost of being a growing rural district, but a ratepayer reckoned purse-tightening and efficiency gains were needed.

The Western Bay had an average residential rates bill of $3192 in 2016/17, twice that of the lowest ranked area, Mackenzie District Council on $1593.

The national average was $2304. Tauranga City was ranked 15th highest on $2553.

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Taxpayers' Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke said the Western Bay had topped the list since it began in 2014 and ratepayers should be concerned about "the new norm".

"Ratepayers might be willing to tolerate high cost in the short term, especially if it's connected to vital infrastructure, but it becomes a concern when the council is ranking as the most expensive year after year.

"The council needs to demonstrate that it has a long-term plan to not just freeze costs, but actually reduce them."

Keith Hay, secretary of the Western Ward Residents and Ratepayers Association, said the ranking did not surprise him.

In his view it was due to a combination of high cost of servicing council debts and spending on unwanted, unnecessary or low cost/benefit projects such as the new Katikati library, boat ramps and cycleways.

He also blamed poor project supervision resulting in inefficiencies that cost ratepayers extra.

He said the association believed that instead of disestablishing community boards as planned, the council should bolster boards' functions and powers to keep rates in check.

Western Bay of Plenty Mayor Garry Webber said growing rural districts were rare and most growth councils were cities.

"We have grown 25 per cent in the last 15 or 16 years and we have to provide for those people."

Over the past 15 years, the council had taken on big debts to build new - or increase the capacity of - infrastructure around the district to prepare for predicted growth.

The district's geographical spread meant infrastructure was distributed - for example, five wastewater plants in Katikati, Omokoroa, Maketu/Little Waihi, Te Puke and Waihi Beach - rather than centralised.

He said turning people away was not an option with central government demanding more new houses.

He said the adage that growth should pay for growth was a "myth" that had not been achievable since the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, and the fact was ratepayers had to contribute.

Webber said his council was "operating with financial prudence" and was one of few reducing its debt level - down from $150 million to just over $100m in a few years.

He encouraged anyone struggling to pay rates on a fixed income to contact the council for information about rates rebate options.

As other councils grappled with growth pressures, Webber believed the average rates gap would continue to close.

Averages were worked out by adding together total residential rates and user charges (eg, metered water) then dividing the sum by the number of rateable residential properties.

- Source: New Zealand Taxpayer's Union