As of June 30, 2019, unpaid rates in the Far North totalled:
■ General title land: $5,313,669 owed by 3443 accounts. As of last month that had risen to just over $7.7m.
■ Māori freehold land: $18,335,330 owed by 2417 accounts. Most of that is penalties.
■ The FNDC sends out 37,989 rates assessments, which means about 1 in 7 accounts are not being paid.
No Māori land is among the 57 properties whose owners face court action over years of unpaid rates, the Far North District Council says.
The FNDC is defending its efforts to recover millions of dollars in rates arrears after a claim by the New Zealand Māori Council that it was using the courts to confiscate Māori land over unpaid rates.
In a no-holds-barred statement Māori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki described the FNDC's legal action as ''nothing more than a land grab by modern day pirates''.
He warned local bodies to ''keep their hands off Māori land'' while new legislation addressing rates arrears on Māori land makes its way through Parliament.
FNDC corporate services manager Willy Taylor said the council had handed 57 ''seriously overdue'' rates accounts over to lawyers.
So far the District Court had granted judgements on 12 accounts with eight more being prepared for court action.
Each account owed between $10,000 and $20,000. In most cases no payments had been made for five to six years.
The total amount owing in rates arrears for general title land was now more than $7.7 million.
None of the 57 accounts being pursued, however, were for Māori land.
''Court action is not an option to recover overdue rates on Māori freehold land,'' he said.
Nor did the council have the power to confiscate land, though the council could ask the courts to order the sale of land.
That was done only as a last resort, Taylor said.
If that happened the outstanding rates and any costs were deducted from the sale proceeds. Anyone who believed they had a claim to the leftover money could apply to the Public Trust for their share.
No properties had been sold so far, Taylor said.
Before court action was considered council staff spent weeks or months trying to contact property owners by post, email and phone. Lawyers again tried to contact each property owner before any court case, he said.
Tukaki conceded Māori land was not being pursued over rates arrears ''at this time'' but said he wanted to fire a shot across the FNDC's bow before any council considered doing so ahead of a pending law change.
He was concerned for all rural dwellers, not just Māori, who were struggling to pay their rates and questioned what services they received in return.
The Far North's water shortage highlighted how little the council had invested in basic infrastructure, he said.
''Let's face it, these blokes couldn't organise a sock puppet at a muppet convention.''
During a visit to Kaikohe in February, Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced she would introduce a new bill to Parliament allowing councils to write off rates arrears on Māori freehold land. The bill is due to be introduced this Thursday.
Most arrears on Māori land were from non-payment penalties rather than the original bills along with rates inherited from deceased owners.
The proposal would give land owners a clean slate and allow them to develop land without fearing they would first have to stump up years of rates arrears — making it easier to put unproductive Māori land to use and enabling owners to pay rates in future, she said.