Whangarei District Council spent nearly $29,000 trying to dispose of a businessman's truck worth $1500 it seized for displaying advertising signs on a public road.
Brian May, owner of Magic Tyres and Mags, went to court after the council impounded his Isuzu truck in January 2013 from outside his former business premises on Okara Dr for displaying advertising signs the council said breached its bylaws.
The Whangarei District Court did not make an order for the truck's disposal but ruled in June last year it was parked in a public place in breach of the council's Signs' Control Bylaw 2005.
The Local Government Act 2002 allowed the council to dispose off the truck after giving Mr May notice but without requiring a court order.
In November, Mr May wrote to the council to seek information on how much it spent on costs, including lawyers' fees fighting the case and towing and storage charges.
Council legal counsel Kathryn Candy has released figures that show legal fees for the case, as at the end of August 2014, were $19,168 of which $12,535 was paid directly to lawyer Julian Dawson and $6633 to law firm DLA Phillips Fox in Auckland. Storage cost amounted to $9255 and a further $380 was paid for two tows.
There was no itemised cost for Environment Northland staff time, although it was estimated at $115 for 3.5 hours at $33 per hour.
The council also paid for lawyers' travel costs to and from the Whangarei Airport as well as cost for a hire car. Time spent by council staff was not accounted for.
The council refused to provide a breakdown of costs, saying it would unreasonably prejudice the commercial position of its solicitors.
Mr May has the right to complain to the Ombudsman.
He is also claiming through the Disputes' Tribunal $13,800 from the council for reduction in his truck's value, which he says deteriorated badly while in council possession. The case will be heard on March 18.
"The whole episode is a total sham. They (council) is too busy chasing businesspeople that stand up against them," Mr May said.
Council group manager district living, Paul Dell, said it was the first time in the past seven years the council had to impound a vehicle due to an ongoing breach of signage bylaws and non-cooperation by the offender.
"We did not in fact have to return the vehicle and could have sold it. We chose to return it," Mr Dell said.
He said the issue was not about the value of the truck but the continual breach of council's signage bylaw.
Issues over the use of the truck as a sign had gone on for a long time and involved a number of complaints from other businesses, he said, and the council was expected to take action to uphold the signage rules and it did.
"Unfortunately in this case there were significant legal costs," Mr Dell said.
This is the second time in a year that a council case has racked up legal costs.
In October, the Northern Advocate revealed the sacking by WDC chief executive officer Mark Simpson of his personal assistant Jan Walters cost ratepayers almost $200,000 in legal fees after a judgment ruled the firing was wrong. On top of the legal bill fighting the case, the Employment Relations Authority also ruled Ms Walters should be awarded more than $37,000 in lost wages and compensation.