Western Bay of Plenty District Council no longer has the highest rates in New Zealand after being overtaken by Auckland.
A Taxpayers' Union 2017/18 Ratepayers' Report released today revealed the Western Bay's average residential rates bill was $3192, the second-highest in the country. Auckland City had the highest at $3387.
By comparison, Tauranga ranked 13th out of New Zealand's territorial authorities with average rates of $2633. Western Bay's rates did not change from 2016/17.
Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke said this was the third year consecutively where Western Bay's rates were at or near the top of the table and ratepayers should be concerned.
"Local election candidates ought to seriously consider ways of not just limiting rate hikes, but actually reducing costs on ratepayers."
Auckland City replaced Western Bay as having the highest rates in New Zealand due to new charges such as its interim transport levy. However, Auckland also had the excuse of being a unitary council, meaning it has to fund services usually handled by a regional council.
Houlbrooke questioned whether insufficient checks and balances, through a lack of an independent Audit and Risk Committee, would help explain Western Bay's high rates.
He said councils needed to try reducing liabilities, which translated into higher debt financing costs.
"For example, in Tauranga, each household forks out $360 a year just to service the interest on their council's debt. That's money that could be going to core services like roads, rubbish or even rates relief."
Western Bay of Plenty Mayor Garry Webber disputed any suggestion the council needed financial management.
No car? No problem: Free buses for World Car Free Day
The council was audited every six weeks and every quarter, plus every year there was an independent annual review carried out.
Having every councillor involved with audit and risk was "best practice", he said.
"Not just myself, but my predecessor Ross Paterson, has made the point that you have to look at trends over time. Where we may also just be second to Auckland, you've got to look at ... over four to five years, our rates have not risen significantly."
Western Ward Residents and Ratepayers Association secretary Keith Hay said he was pleased the rates had not increased from last year "but they are still too high".
Hay compared the Western Bay to Queenstown, which covered a similar population with a lot of development happening "and their rates are $550 cheaper" at $2634.
"I think having lump sum contracts is a source of a lot of wasted money and there doesn't seem to be any supervision of the contracts."
Tauranga playing 'catch up' with rates
A Tauranga ratepayers' spokesman says Tauranga's rates are high but they might need to go higher to address city issues.
Grace Rd and Neighbourhood Residents' Association's Phil Green questioned why there were other councils "operating quite well" with lower rates.
Green suggested the city had been held back because of decisions made by former councils to hold back on rates. Tauranga's roading and infrastructure issues were part of this, he said.
"It's not just a problem now, it's a problem that was coming for a while ... I think we actually have to put the rates up by 1 or 2 per cent. It'll start to get us on the right track. We've got problems and an extra 1 per cent isn't going to break the bank."
Tauranga mayor Greg Brownless said the city was still playing "catch up" to cover the cost of growth. He was interested in exploring alternative options to rates.
"Rates are always a concern because, unlike taxes which are taken from you before you get money, rates are something you have to write a bill for."