Tutukaka commercial operator Yukon Dive can continue their business after the marina trust withdrew threats to take away the company's permission to operate – however the dispute brings major changes for owners Noel Erickson and Jo Thomson.
In late April, the Tutukaka Marina Management Trust (TMMT) informed Erickson and Thomson that they would revoke Yukon Dive's permission to launch its three vessels from the marina from June 1 should they fail to pay almost $13,300 in outstanding bills.
Thomson said TMMT had since been in touch withdrawing their ultimatum.
It's the latest development in an ongoing feud between Yukon Dive and TMMT over a 575 per cent increase of the passenger levy the operator has to pay annually imposed in October last year.
Yukon Dive has now relocated one of its boats – a 12m catamaran – to the Marsden Cove Marina to offer diving, snorkelling and sightseeing trips around Bream Bay.
"It's a bit of an experiment – the team is very enthusiastic. We're diversifying while trying to protect jobs. We had to do that to protect our business," Thomson said.
According to Thomson, TMMT informed them that they would review revenue and structure plans but didn't indicate whether it would wipe Yukon Dive's outstanding debt.
She said Yukon Dive appreciated TMMT's decision to let them continue operating out of the Tutukaka Marina, but claimed the levy changes were "unlawful", and their business couldn't rely on the trust's future decision making.
After years of charging commercial operators $1 plus GST per passenger, TMMT announced last year that the levy would now be calculated based on the capacity of each vessel – regardless of whether the vessels run on full capacity daily or not.
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Thomson said there had not been sufficient consultation with berth holders over these changes as required under the trust's deed.
TMMT also had left berth holders in the dark about why they required more money, and where it would be spent, Thomson claimed.
Last year's annual returns show a $22,880 deficit after the trust spent $921,172, which is significantly more than previous years.
Total expenditures for the past nine years fluctuate between $513,000 (in 2016) and $665,000 (in 2018).
The Northern Advocate has contacted TMMT several times, but it has declined to comment.
Meanwhile, the trust has fired back at a group of berth holders who sent out an email about what they claim is "mismanagement" of the marina.
"For some time now a small group have managed to remain as trustees and generally have done a good job. However, the constant negativity to our commercial operators especially the dive vessels must cease," a berth holder under the alias Mike Oxmall wrote.
"Without them [commercial operators] our local cafes and restaurants would not be economically viable, and Tutukaka would be some grubby little backwater."
Oxmall criticised TMMT for "operating behind closed doors".
"The current set-up of the trust does not meet good governance requirements, resulting in a very poor customer service culture – we are all left in the dark – this needs to be changed," Oxmall said.
TMMT chairman John Healy responded to the allegations in a letter to all berth holders condemning Oxmall's email as "mischievous" and "unsolicited" with "false and unsubstantiated claims".
"Firstly, to say Tutukaka would be 'some grubby little backwater' without the dive operators is an insult to all who live, work and play in this beautiful place. Furthermore, according to visitors and marina users, the customer service culture at Tutukaka Marina is as good, if not better, than any marina in NZ," Healy wrote.
Healy pointed out that the trust was transparently elected every second year and has representatives from the Whangārei District Council and the Tutukaka Coast Residents and Ratepayers Association.
"The fact that some trustees have been re-elected for lengthy periods suggests that the berth holders are generally happy with them. It appears that 'Oxmall' would like the trust board representation skewed away from the berth holders and more towards the small number of commercial operators."
He said TMMT complied with the Charitable Trusts Act as well as the trust's deed in every respect.
Addressing the controversial changes for the passenger levy, Healy said it was impossible to verify the passenger numbers provided by the commercial operators and their reports came infrequently.
"Our accountants and auditors told us to find a better system," Healy explained.
He said commercial operators had "the privilege of working out of this superb facility" which was being maintained and refurbished by the trust.