Auckland Council's latest budget has a sting in the tail for more than 8000 property owners facing proposed rate increases of between 16 per cent and 23 per cent.
Mayor Phil Goff's 10-year budget contains an average rate increase of 5 per cent this year and 3.5 per cent thereafter.
However, a group of 7500 households and businesses in rural towns face a one-off average rate increase of 16 per cent from July this year, or about $430. A smaller group of 616 people on farm lifestyle blocks face rate increases of up to 23 per cent.
This is because the draft budget contains a plan to move homes and businesses in booming rural towns like Kumeu and Pukekohe from a rural rate to an urban rate on the grounds they now share similar services to suburbs like Remuera, Ponsonby and Takapuna.
The same argument applies to 616 farm lifestyle blocks on the city fringes where the average increase is $1085 for 500 properties and $2200 for 116 higher value properties.
"We think this proposal is fair because these properties have access to much higher levels of our services than farm and lifestyle properties in rural areas," says a budget document.
Kumeu businessman Craig Walker said the rates on his industrial land, buildings and home will rise by thousands of dollars in a rural town that bears no resemblance to urban Auckland.
"We have got an overstretched wastewater system in Kumeu-Riverhead. There are no footpaths, no amenities ... the roads were built in the 40s and 50s and marginally improved since then to accommodate all the traffic."
Walker, who runs a building relocation business, said the extra rates money will go into the council coffers and none of it will be returned to the community.
"To me, it's fundamentally very, very wrong ... it's a busted council trying their absolute best to squeeze money from any form they possibly can."
Kumeu Community Action Group chairman Guy Wishart said residents feel like they are part of a team, being the ugly kid that doesn't get picked and still has to pay fees.
He said the council may say Kumeu has an art gallery to compare the rural town's facilities with the city, but locals fought tooth and nail to convert an old works building and received little in the way of funding from the council.
Wishart said the fast-growing area has no swimming pools, no trains, no cycleways, poor roads and no footpaths apart from the occasional footpath on the main street, and in new residential areas.
"When you compare us to being somehow urban, we are not, we are just a rural area surrounded by a few little pockets of urban-ness.
"We are frustrated and angry at being whacked with another fee without getting anything for it," said Wishart, saying there might be fewer objections if people knew there would be a pump track for the kids or something else for the community.
He said the council spent billions of dollars in the central city, but when it came to areas like Kumeu and Huapai things are planned but they are always 10 to 20 years away.
"We certainly don't want another increase in rates and don't feel like we have got anything at this point to justify those increases."
Rodney councillor Greg Sayers and the two Albany councillors John Watson and Wayne Walker are opposing the higher rates, calling them heartless and unfair. Many of the affected ratepayers are in their wards.
Up until now, homes and businesses in rural areas outside the Urban Rating Area have been charged 90 per cent of the rate charged to urban properties to reflect the lower level of services available to rural areas. Farm lifestyle blocks have been charged 80 per cent of the urban rate.
In the draft 10-year budget, the council is proposing to extend the Urban Rating Area to capture areas where development is occurring or can occur inside the Rural Urban Boundary (RUB). Land expected to be turned into housing over the next 30 years will not be captured by the changes until it is rezoned for development, plus Warkworth because of its distance from Auckland.
The council said an argument can be made for excluding Kumeu/Huapai and Riverhead from paying urban rate due to lower levels of services, particularly public transport and recreational facilities, but said they are still within a 10 to 20-minute drive from Westgate with its new community facilities.
The three councillors said the rationale that households and businesses now enjoy "similar access" to facilities and services that urban ratepayers enjoy is nonsense.
"Communities like Herald Island have open ditches on either side of their roads, no kerb and channelling and no public transport. Whenuapai isn't even connected to a reticulated wastewater system," said Watson.
Said Sayers: "Saying rural people have the same access to council facilities as people living in the CBD is ridiculous, unjust and an outright money grab."
Walker said the higher rates will also be passed on to tenants in the form of higher rents and those least able will end up paying the cost.
Mayor Phil Goff, who is responsible for developing the budget, said the higher rates increase was not part of his mayoral proposal and had been put forward by staff as a change to the rating policy.
Through a spokesman, Goff said the proposal is out for public consultation, including an option to exclude Kumeu-Huapai and Riverhead.
"The mayor is keeping an open mind and will wait to receive the feedback from Aucklanders before making a decision on whether or not to support the proposal," the spokesman said.
Areas where households and businesses face rate increases averaging 16 per cent
Northwest (includes Whenuapai/Hobsonville/Herald Island/Westgate/Red Hills/Massey) - 2677
Kumeu/Huapai - 2245
Riverhead - 1140
Pine Valley/Dairy Flat - 430
Karaka/Hingaia/Drury - 520
Manukau - 50
The 616 farm lifestyle blocks facing increases of up to 23 per cent are spread around the city fringes.