Householders on a number of Far North properties could lose their homes due to long-overdue rates as part of Far North District Council's tough new approach clawing back millions of outstanding rates dollars.
The first court-ordered property sale under the Local Government (Rating) Act is scheduled for January – a bare Kerikeri block.
The council is also currently preparing cases to submit to the District Court for up to 21 other properties, some of which have houses on them. Those that the court rules be sold under the Local Government (Rating) Act will also face sale under the same proceedings.
"…the other 21 involve houses, which will involve people losing their houses," Far North District chief financial officer Janice Smith told Northland Regional Council's (NRC) meeting in Whangārei this week.
She said after the meeting there were houses on a number of the 21 properties but she was not able to specify the exact number involved.
"We're getting a lot more aggressive. That's quite a change in stance," Smith said.
The outstanding properties are the worst offenders amongst the council's 38,000 rates accounts, owing at least $10,000 each in rates from as far back as 2014.
FNDC owes NRC more than $3.68 million dollars of outstanding NRC rates it collects on behalf of the regional council - some of that outstanding from as long ago as 2014.
NRC's $3,682,653 of in-arrears rates go back up to six years. By law, rating debts accumulated prior to that time must be written off. (The FNDC outstanding unpaid in-arrears rates do not include those being collected by that council on NRC's behalf in the current 2019/2020 financial year).
Collection of Northlanders' NRC rates is administered by FNDC, Whangārei District Council and Kaipara District Council through their local areas' respective individual rates collecting.
Smith told the meeting FNDC was carrying out a range of rates recovery measures.
The 22 properties FNDC has in its sights for sale under the Local Government (Rating) Act are among 64 that involve lawyers proceeding with legal action to recover outstanding rates.
Demands worth just over $1 million had last week been sent out.
The council had boosted its internal legal capacity, employing four new in-house lawyers. It was tackling the most serious in-arrears rates cases first.
Margareit Veenstra , FNDC manager- transaction services, said in an agenda item in support of the outstanding NRC rates collection that $2,693,895 of the outstanding money was Māori freehold land rate. This is 73 per cent of the outstanding money.
FNDC rates recovery also involved the council's new Te Hono Māori relationships unit working with relevant iwi and others, Smith said.
NRC councillors generally reacted favourably to Smith's FNDC in-arrears rating presentation.
But the matter came under fire from Northland Regional Council deputy chairman and Far North resident Justin Blaikie.
"We're on a treadmill going round and round," Blaikie told the meeting at the start of its consideration of the issue.
Blaikie said the in-arrears FNDC rating collection impacted across the entire Far North district. Those who were paying rates were subsidising the many infrastructure projects the territorial authority needed to carry out.
He said the situation also affected Northland Regional Council's operations.
Blaikie called for changes to the Local Government (Rating) Act to better deal with the in-arrears rates situation.
Meanwhile Veenstra said 22 per cent of the FNDC arrears were owing "across a number of years".
Twenty-seven percent of the arrears were from the last two years' rates.
About 51 per cent of the $3.68 million-plus arrears was made up of last year's 2018/2019 rates.
"When rates are received from the district councils they are deposited into council's (NRC's) short-term investment fund. When council (NRC) receives a lower level of rating revenue, it can result in a reduced level of returns derived from the short-term investment fund."
NRC finance manager Simon Crabb said in the meeting agenda item in support of the rates issue.
FNDC still had to collect $3,682,653 of NRC in-arrears rates from years prior to the current 2019-2020 financial year, he said.
Veenstra said FNDC actions towards remedying her council's NRC in-arrears rates included mortgage demands for 144 FNDC properties in October. A further 400 properties had been identified for a second phase of this process.
Northland Regional Council is owed $4,707,794 of now in-arrears rates collected on its behalf by the region's three district councils.
One top of the outstanding FNDC's $3682,653 money, a further $1 million-plus is still owed from around the region - $758,750 from the Kaipara District Council area and $266,391 from the Whangārei District Council area, according to the agenda item for the meeting.