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Larry Mitchell in the NZ Truth 27.03.13
The following article appeared in this week's NZ Truth:
Kaipara ratepayers run up their protest flag and making laws doesn’t make it right!
The next few months will see a battle joined between central government and the ratepayer’s of the Kaipara District. The saga being played out concerns acknowledged illegal acts and just plain sloppy administration of their Council.
The Northern natives are restless ... local Kaipara District ratepayer groups are now directly in conflict with the Commissioners appointed to run their Council after the Council was unceremoniously fired en masse last year. The Government is facing the dual prospect of civil disorder not seen in New Zealand in living memory and the spectacle of a local Council going broke.
The Kaipara Commissioners, appointed by the Minister of Local Government are in the process of promoting “validating” legislation designed to legalize the many wrongful acts and defaults of the Kaipara Council, principally those relating to a huge blowout of costs and the debt associated with the Mangawhai area wastewater scheme.
What would be your reaction if you were a Kaipara District Council ratepayer? after having read the preamble to the proposed Bill making unqualified admissions of the illegalities proposed to be rectified by the Kaipara validation Bill if you then found legislation containing the following extraordinary provisions ...
• this clause validates the specified funding impact statements adopted by the Council ...
• validates all penalties added to any of the specified rates ...
• declares all money received by the Council in payment of the specified rates and any penalties paid in respect of those rates to have been lawfully paid
• the rates and penalties payable that have not been paid to the Council ... are lawfully payable to the Council and may be recovered by the Council as if the rates or penalties had always been lawfully payable”.
This is a naked power- based use of the law to rectify a litany of Council illegal actions and defaults. It has been described in the following terms as “draconian, retrospective, undemocratic, outrageous, and a misuse of governmental powers”. So what has happened to create this total shambles?
For those who have not followed this sorry tale to date here are some brief facts and figures.
• The details of the case are simple enough ... the Council has mismanaged or worse the Mangawhai wastewater project.
• The project’s budgeted expenditures more than doubled from what ratepayers had approved and the whole district is now saddled with unsustainable debt and accumulated interest approaching the $100 million mark.
• An estimated “2 to 3000 ratepayers” are withholding “over $5 million of rates” which the Bill seeks to validate. Ratepayers are well advanced in the process of seeking a Judicial Review of the whole affair.
• The banks who lent the Council huge sums of money are holding off foreclosure for the present. There are no guarantees that this support will continue.
The Minister’s men, the Commissioners who are now in charge ... have come up with their legislative “solution” to the problems. Ratepayers object to the proposed Bill treating it as a whitewash and it dodges many questions of accountability. No investigations, including interviews with willing whistleblowers have been conducted. The community, as earlier promised has not been consulted in arriving at the process and proposed legal remedies.
A government Auditor’s report into the wastewater project is expected shortly. This report, ahead of its release is already widely derided for its lack of independence. As ratepayer groups point out, the auditors are gravely conflicted as they will be reporting on their own audit failures. They cannot therefore be relied upon to deliver objective and balanced findings of their own failures.
This whole affair is headed for a train wreck involving serious issues of public law and policy as well as the use of central government powers against a local community. The collision of the decisions of the ratepayer funded Judicial Review coming up against the actions of the Commissioners and the proposed validating legislation all add up to the prospect of a huge stoush “Up North”. A modern day Northland bust up to rival Hongi Hika’s flagpole displays of civil disorder .
Kaipara Commissioners - The Only Show in Town
Billed as a meeting it took more the form of a presentation. And quite a production it was too. The ratepayer turnout was low, about 30. I was not surprised. It is a busy time in the country and those not making hay while the sun shone were equally busy trying to earn a living elsewhere.. Four Commissioners and five council staff including the CEO were present. I expect they were all on full salary for that days - ‘work’? I am pleased that I am not sending them any money. I don’t think I can afford to subsidise presentations employing such highly paid actors.
I am a B grade actor myself but seldom command such fees. Alas and alack I must ply that particular trade in the private sector. At least though, I know that I am acting. ‘Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive’
We sat in an unlit shady room and were addressed by Chief, or is it Head Commissioner John Robertson? He read from a prepared script. Really John, to succeed in the game you must learn your lines by heart. The general theme was how much better things are being done now and what plans are being laid to fix everything. He said ‘us’ and ‘we’ a lot. Actors are fond of telling others how good they are and these actors were no exception.
Trouble is they couldn’t back it up with anything that they had actually achieved. Certainly not on behalf of ratepayers.
A white screen displayed computer generated headings the topics mostly of a generic and amorphous nature. They reminded me nostalgically of the glossy booklets produced by Jack McKerchar and the KDC that contained bar graphs, pie charts, lots of words and plenty of positivity but that said practically nothing and contained very little useful information.
I must concede though, he has some talent as an actor, he kept a straight face when he asserted that the Auditor general was ‘independent’. When the presentation was over a few people asked questions. Simple ones like "what is the interest rate on the $80 million debt?. Could not be answered.
They assured us they were resolving all the problems and the Kaipara could look forward with confidence towards a bright future. It reminded me of a quote, 'The more he spoke of his honour the faster we counted the silverware'. Robinson said he wanted to get the district ‘humming’. This, at least, is something they have achieved. The district is humming alright, like a hive of angry bees. And to that end he conceded that the anger of the people of the district was a problem and unless this could be overcome it would be difficult to ‘move forward‘. He made this anger sound like a tree stump or boulder that needed removal before putting a race through.. At no stage did anyone attempt to address the causes of the anger. Ratepayers are angry because they have been, and continue to be shafted. If you stop robbing us we will, I'm sure, regain our composure.
Long on rhetoric but short on facts they were trying to sell positive words but are better actors than salesmen. But "ching ching'' goes John Robertson’s cash register regardless. Another hard day at the office and another $1400 Kaipara dollars in his pocket and walking out of the district like so many other dollars before them. When local man Peter Bull began delivering a diatribe denigrating those of us who refuse to hand money over to cheats and liars I became sick of it all and left.
On leaving I noticed that at least this administration was economising in some areas. The afternoon tea was missing the usual small savouries and club sandwiches in favour of more humble Sultana Pastes and Chocolate Thins.
The commissioners seem like decent chaps who are probably polite to their wives and don’t mistreat animals. I have no reason to believe they are not doing a good job. Sadly though it is not the job we want, or the job we need. They are working on behalf of Central Government and corporate banking interests whilst Kaipara property owners fund them for It
Thanks Commissioners but I do not want to buy what you are selling. And my apologies for being a grumpy reviewer but I’ve seen the show before. Anyway the book was better, but either way it is a tragedy and always ends badly. The only thing in doubt is whether the goodies or the baddies win, and do the robbers get away with the money?
John MacDonald, Editor of the Kaipara Konnection (here) 24.02.13
Legal Eagle in his blog yesterday reports that during the hours of darkness on Thursday night what was probably a group of people plastered a custom-made black vinyl sticker with BLUDGER in large white letters over the rate striker signs on properties in Mangawhai so that they read Another Bludger.
What this does is to further expose the very deep divisions that exist in the Kaipara District over the debacle of Council KDC conduct and the attempts by the “Minister Boys” a.k.a as the Commissioners to plaster over the crevasses. Note the word crevasses rather than cracks. These aint just cracks – they are bloody great holes that need to be filled and soon.
The bumbling, bureaucratic, Nelsonian directives to the Commissioners which prevent them from actually looking backwards (or even sideways) makes them effectively powerless. Since the days of then Mayor Graham Ramsey when the then CEO and council staff were allowed to run amok with no accountability or boundaries, deep seated wounds and strong opinions have grown within Kaipara to a point where physical violence must be considered as a real possibility. With our police now focused principally on traffic enforcement it could be a right royal stouch that develops. Lets hope not.
Stories of council staff “losing” mail and tender responses handed in over the counter, ignoring phone calls and e-mails and even demanding money to perfume their duties and putting it in their pockets with no receipts are rife yet there is no attempt being made by the Commissioners to address these accusations and either put them to bed once and for all or take a logical step and commence legal proceedings against proven offenders. They are required in their terms of reference to “engage with the community” but obviously there are serious limitations to the engagement.
With Kaipara District now rated the worst in the Larry Mitchell league table it is pretty obvious that even the ministerial appointed “whizz kids” can’t do the job that they were put in to do. Better that they be removed (with significant cost savings to the District), and the Australian banks told to “bugger off” until a sensible merger plan for Northland can be achieved. We cannot to go on borrowing money to put food on the table each night and sit in our home fearful of what might happen next. What is needed is a Minster of Local Government with “guts” rather than the wrist flapping, tut tutting, compliance to the bureaucrats and banks we have seen from the last few. Anyone available out there?
Pete Grierson 04.02.13
I wish to comment and counter the points that MP Mike Sabin made in his "MP's Corner" op-ed piece in the Dargaville and District News on 23 January, 2013.
Mr Sabin is proposing to introduce a Bill in to Parliament to help the Kaipara District Council to correct what they both describe as "minor" and "technical" issues, with a view that this Bill will then solve all the ratings woes of the District, especially as they relate to Mangawhai and the failed EcoCare Waste Water scheme.
If either Mr Sabin or any of the commissioners can point out to me exactly where these issues are either minor, and / or technical, then I'll give them, and their proposed Bill, my full support, for what it is worth. I challenge them to do so.
I know full well that they can't and won't be able to reply, as anyone who has done any reading on this matter knows with absolute surety that none of the issues that they mention are either minor, or technical, that is to say, unless "minor" and "technical" have both become bywords for terms such as illegal, highly illegal, theft, deceipt, outright lies, gross incompetence, negligence on a grand scale, cover up, refusal to deal with ratepayers, refusal to acknowledge an issue and so on. I am highly disappointed especially with Mr Sabin's stance, as he is an ex-policeman who is now endorsing illegal activities.
The Mangawhai waste water scheme has been a rort from start to finish. Without intending to re-litigate the entire issue, a scheme that was supposed to cost $36m and connect 4,500 dwellings has ended up costing over $80m with fewer than a third of the connections, and the plant is already running at its capacity. The council has acknowledged that it has received something like $17m of illegally collected rates yet refuses to pay this back. It has no power to levy the current rates, as the current Long term Plan and the 2010-2011 Annual Report were both adopted out of time. The commissioners have unilaterally voted not to consult with the public any more, despite this clause being a condition of their engagement by the former Minister For Local Government. The Council continues to stick to its line that its actions are legal, despite the Mangawhai Residents and Ratepayers Association having obtained an actual legal opinion (as opposed to the Council, whose supposed legal opinion came from one of their own staffers) stating that quite clearly, the council's actions with respect to the current rates, are not legal. The council has spent about $36k of unbudgeted money getting an alternative legal opinion and the fact that this opinion has not been released would tend to support the MRRA's legal opinion is correct. Need I go on?
So - to Messer's Sabin and Robertson - please spell out to us ignorant peasants exactly how and where these issues are minor and technical - I am sure that this will make for interesting, if highly fictional reading. Be on notice that if this Bill does see the light of day, that it will be contested with vehemence by the citizenry. You - both the Council and the MP's - are paid by either local and / or national taxes, and your first duty should be to look after the concerns of your ratepayers and / or constituents - not to stitch them up in some badly written legislation that will cripple and condemn the district forever.
One question gents: many people can not afford the existing rates now - let's put aside for one minute that the 2012-13 rates rose by 38% in my case. By drawing up this legislation, if it were to pass, it would give you a free rein to raise the rates ad infinitum, year on year. If people can't afford the existing rates, how do you think they could afford additional, annual 20% or more increases? Your rationale with maths is stunning. Watch the district empty out, watch people walk off their land, watch the property values drop - this is already happening.
COMMENTS ON THE DEED OF SETTLEMENT WITH JACK MCKERCHAR
Concerned ratepayer 23.01.13
The release of these documents tell us virtually nothing, and the result smells as bad as a toilet door on a prawn trawler.
What it does however serve to accomplish, other than provide dates whereby a "resignation" agreement was reached, is reaffirm the fact that there have been dealings behind closed doors (again) that have probably disappeared down the KDC shredder.
Someone, or certain individuals know exactly what has been manufactured here, and we should pursue this to the bitter end.
These characters have collectively excavated a huge hole, and the known authorities are desperately trying to distance themselves from the situation, while doing their utmost to ensure the community is held financially liable for many years to come.
The associated gutless, spineless behaviour of the individuals holding the reins, dribbling the glib rhetoric such as "rates technical difficulties" is sickening. Do these people really think the community is that stupid ?
Whatever was discussed over and above this high-level drivel document, and the actual reasons for all the unjustified separate clauses indemnifying McKerchar from any future culpability, need to be uncovered.
I personally would be ecstatic, if my current employer would guarantee me a gold-plated reference, promise never to say anything bad about me to any future employers, never hold me legally accountable for any gargantuan stuffups of biblical proportions, and give me 1/4 million dollars to boot.
The only trouble is, I will be remaining here, earning a future for my family and bailing out these reprehensible thieves for the unforeseen future.
Firstly, how wonderful that finally the public have access to this document. Public pressure does still work in a pseudo-democracy. Well done, Kaipara Concerns.
However for me, the Deed of Settlement raises more questions than it answers: It tells us how, when and for how much Jack McKerchar “went”, but still not the WHY! (we can now assume that “health reasons” was a spin)
Referring to the numbered points in the Deed of Settlement (see the full Deed here):
1. If it was an amicable departure, then why did Jack resign early and receive compensation payments? Why did he not simply resign contemporaneously with the expiry of his employment contract on 31st October?
If it was not an amicable departure (as points 6,7,8 seem to suggest), then why was he not discharged from his duties immediately on August 2nd instead of being required to “undertake his duties until 31st October 2011” ?
During that four month period he would necessarily have had access to all files and information within KDC and therefore become a potential security risk through not being bound by normal employee obligations or by his employment contract. Perhaps I have this wrong?
2. Why was it necessary to compensate Jack for the following year’s salary when it was stated that he resigned for health reasons?
3. ((b) Why the split payments? This seems unusual business practice.
6. Why was this clause necessary, given that Jack’s departure was “amicable”? A positive reference would have been a given, if he had deserved it.
7. Ditto (6) One would expect a “normal public farewell” for an employee who left for health reasons, or on an amical basis.
However, this does explain the public farewell that was out of step with public sentiment for the man, and that bewildered and enraged the ratepayers.
8. Why was it necessary to include in the Deed an undertaking to “keep confidential the negotiations leading to the Employee’s resignation and the terms of the settlement etc” if all was above board and amicable?
Can we bring pressure to bear on Neil Tiller and Julie Geange to reveal the content of those negotiations?
Signification public money was paid out in relation to a senior public service position that would have clear obligations and duties written into the Employment Contract. If Jack as an employee had breached any terms of his contract or put the Council or the ratepayers at risk then this should have become public knowledge and not a closely-held pact between Jack, Neil and Julie. Likewise, if Council (as our elected representatives) had breached the terms of Jack’s contract, we surely had a right to know this, given we paid the compensation through our rates. Either way you look at it, it’s a cover-up.
Points 6, 7 and 8 strongly suggest to me that Jack was asked to leave by Council, and that he was seriously out of favour with them for some reason or reasons.
The fact that he was not sacked outright and was instead compensated by payments of $240,000 suggests to me that either Jack (rightfully) disagreed with Council’s decision to terminate his contract, or that he held leverage over them, and the common term for this behaviour is “blackmail”.
Graham Mackenzie 16.01.13
This letter of Graham Mackenzie of the MRRA was published in this week's Mangawhai Focus.
WHAT THE COMMISSIONERS DID NOT TELL YOU
In response to the headline article Parliament May Find Solution To Rates Errors the following are facts not reported in this article:
a. The Kaipara District Council Commissioners unanimously passed a Resolution on18th December 2012 to engage Simpson Grierson Auckland lawyers at a cost of $100,000 to $150,000 to prepare a Local Bill to validate the illegal rates 2006/12.
b. The $100,000 to $150,000 is a NON BUDGETED EXPENSE ie this expense is not included in any Kaipara District Council LTP or financial Budget.
c. The proposed Local Bill is RETROSPECTIVE LAW. Retrospective law is the most draconian punitive legal instrument that can be drafted. Retrospective Laws are usually drafted and used by military dictatorships.
d. When the Local Bill is completed it is to be sponsored into the New Zealand\Parliament by Mr Mike Sabin MP for the Kaipara District
e. There has been ZERO Community Consultation in this matter
f. The Commissioners say that the drafting and implementation of the Local Bill is fair AND THE ONLY WAY TO SOLVE THE ILLEGAL RATES PROBLEM. This move is unfair draconian and punitive and should never occur in a democracy.
g. A cornerstone Terms of Reference Appointment of the Commissioners is that the Commissioners were IN GOOD FAITH ESTABLISH COMMUNITY LINKS. The move to establish Good Faith Relationships with the community has been brushed aside again and this move is not transparent.
Dave McGillivray 04.01.13
My partner and I have a relatively modest batch in the Sands subdivision of Mangawhai heads and have spent most of our free time over the last eight years finishing it off and developing the property. We now live full time in the same.
Eight years ago we liked the idea of living in a small caring community and invested in the same, supporting local business and enjoying the lifestyle. We have watched the council debacle unfold and have collected all data released by council during this time. We still have the glossy brochures published by council at the start of the Community sewerage system; like others we did not want to join the system, as our subdivision had its own separate system which worked well and we all paid into it in the form of a residents association, however we accepted that for a system to be in place to protect the estuary then it was a necessity.
We have watched our rates rise from $640.00 in 2004 to $2500.00 today. The initial proposed rate was going to be $4500.00 on a 750m2 section with no water supply, stormwater system, council maintenance (we asked for the verges to be mowed but were told no money in council budget)or any input from council of any kind.
We have always paid our rates on time and do not like the idea of withholding the same. We are currently paying our rates to a separate bank account; as suggested by the lawyers, as we realise we will eventually be required to pay at least some rates.
We also have another empty section on which the rates have been raised from $870.00 per year to $2300.00 per year. Council has absolutely no hope of receiving this increase from us.
Council have been very sneaky in raising the rates on all empty sections as it assumes (rightly) that most are owned by out-of-towners. This then protects the locals from huge increases and lulls them into a false sense of security. Councils’ logic is that we may “derive a benefit” from being able to connect to the system so they are only charging 80% of the full rates. If this logic is implied then maybe Sky TV could send out 80% invoices to everybody in the country who is not currently connected and enforce payment with threats. Brilliant??
Council keeps complaining of insufficient funds to run its day to day expenses. What happened to all the increased revenue from all the new subdivisions over the last 10 years; Funded by Developers, who changed income from one or two lots paying a couple of thousand dollars per year, to hundreds of sections paying up to $1000.00 per year each?? Not to mention all of the development contributions paid to council. All this increased revenue and it didn’t cost the council one cent.
We refuse to be bullied by Council or its appointed bully boys (commissioners) and consider anyone who is paying their rates to these gangsters to be a little stupid. I’m sure the same people will jump up and down when their rates double again, although it will be a little late then.
Is it true the Council Stole $5.0million from the recreation fund and wrote a worthless I.O.U.?
Is it true that a bankrupt organisation have recently borrowed another $20million from the same banks to fund a poorly run business and interest rates, and legal fees against us?
The apathetic people of Mangawhai need to WAKE UP and all withhold their rates. The only reason the bank has lent money is so it can receive it back in the form of interest payments.
The closing of small businesses is the sounding of a death knell and Mangawhai is badly injured.
We intend to stay here till the bitter end and illogically hope that this mess can be sorted out, however, it will NOT be paid for by these ratepayers.
On a side note, does anybody have any proof that the estuary is cleaner?, my understanding is that a lot of the properties bordering the same are not even connected. Also why is our 3500 connection sewerage system (increased to 4500 connection at a cost of $40m) running at capacity with approx 1400 connections?
The word “Magical” could well be replaced with “Farcical”.
Watch this space
Dame Beverley Wakem
Re: Support for Complaint Ref No 347330, Ratepayers vs. K.D.C.
We respectfully ask that you write to the Commissioners who are currently running the Kaipara District Council, to instruct them to make public the legal advice that they have obtained from Simpson Grierson Lawyers, regarding the setting of rates that they acknowledge was done outside the law. We understand that they paid for this legal advice (approx $36,000) from our rates.
The chief Commissioner, Mr Robertson, has announced on the KDC website and also to the RNZ program “Checkpoint” that the Commissioners would like parliament to pass legislation RATIFYING THE ILLEGAL RATES. Moreover, they will spend the money received from OUR RATES to fund this travesty – a cost estimated at between $100,000 and $200,000.
We are now joining others who are going to withhold their property rates until this matter is resolved, because we do not wish to be a party to the illegal process, and we do not want our money to fund the cost to “render the illegal rates legal”.
We are otherwise law-abiding citizens. The next instalment on our (exhorbitant and illegal) rates is due tomorrow (20th December) so we ask that you give this matter your most urgent attention as it does not sit well with us to not pay our rates. I think that your letter to KDC should also warn them against charging penalties on unpaid illegal rates.
Instead of having the appointed Commissioners sort out the terrible mess that you would no doubt be well aware of in the Kaipara District, we have come to the awful realisation that the democratic process is being further abused, and we feel very strongly that you should launch an independent and urgent investigation into this whole matter that threatens the foundations of democracy in New Zealand.
To: Kaipara District Council
Dear Finance Manager,
Rates mismanagement and theft – All valuation assessment numbers
We note that you and your associates have an overdue duty of care totalling between $80 and $110 million dollars. Please arrange to make reparation as soon as possible.
You have financial difficulties and did not have an arrangement with the ratepayers for the misappropriation of rates.
If reparation has been made since the date of this letter, we thank you and please ignore this reminder.
Sharon Sunderland 19.12.12
I write to you in my capacity as power of attorney for my 80 year old mother, who has a property in the Kaipara at Tinopai. I am aware that there are some substantial outstanding bills to be paid, one of these is the rates.
Some points regarding the property at Tinopai:
• Firstly, both of my parents are in their 80's and pensioners so the burden of them paying an exorbitant rates bill is well beyond their financial means.
• My parents property and many of the properties in the area, have no access to sewerage, they have septic tanks and many properties rely on tank water.
• It seems that the exorbitant rates they have been paying over the years are in relation to collection of rubbish, which I might add comes with some very tight regulations regarding disposal and also incurs further personal expense for my parents given they must supply their own council compliant garbage bags
I am sure there are other areas that Council have allocated funding to over the years but I am very concerned and worried about the undue stress on my aged parents regarding such a staggering amount for rates given they are pensioners and living in a rural area.
I live in suburban Sydney in Australia, one of the most expensive cities in the world to live, yet the rates I pay are approximately the same as the rates that my parents have been billed.
I am appalled at the apparent negligence of the Kaipara District Council and ongoing blame game. If this was a private business then it would have been bankrupt and quite possibly the "owners" would be jailed for fraudulently charging it's clients for services NOT rendered and also for which they had no prior knowledge. The following extract from Radio New Zealand, 13 December 2012 " The commissioners running the debt-stricken Kaipara District Council will ask Parliament to validate rates they now admit were unlawful." justifies the stance taken by all the rate strikers of which I for one, will be joining.
Esther & Peter Ball 14.12.12
Letter to John Robertson, chair of commissioners
Dear Mr Robertson,
thank you for your recent letter regarding the current situation in the Kaipara district. Since your letter appears to be welcoming a dialogue with us ratepayers, we would like to take the opportunity express some of our concerns.
We would like to begin by stating that we have not been paying our rates. Even though my family has always paid our rates since we bought our property in 1966, we feel that the situation is so bad that we need to do everything in our power to make it clear to anyone who might be listening that this all cannot simply fall on us. However we want to do the right thing. We are simply not convinced at the moment that paying our rates is the right thing to do for us or for our district.
We absolutely do not agree with your statement that people like us are having a negative impact on the property values in the area. The negative impact is because of the massive rates increases and people are trying to cut their losses and bail out. This results in more supply than demand and so property values fall. However that aside, our primary concerns are:
1. A large amount of the $79.1 million debt was generated by illegal arrangements made behind the scenes. Are you able to dispute this? Isn't alone the fact that the sewerage scheme was undemocratically forced upon an unwilling majority the first illegal act? Why do the ratepayers have to front up and pay for these illegal debts, especially when we were against the scheme in the first place? Is it simply because we are merely the pawns in this game and the authorities (councillors, commissioners, bankers, ministers, etc) can do as they wish with us? If I were to buy a car from a reputable car dealer and then find out that the car was stolen, should I not get my money back? Why should I lose both my money and the car because of someone else's illegal act? In the same way, why should we pay such high rates because of someone else's illegal acts?
2. The adopted long term plan "what the current rates are based on" is illegal as it was adopted well outside the legal time frame. So the commissioners even now are knowingly acting illegally in setting these rates.
3. There is much talk about debt and the fact that it has to be paid. However we feel that everyone is missing the point and cannot see the forest for the trees. The issue is that we pay rates for services that the council provides and for nothing else. We are not paying rates to clean up someone's mistake. If this is not already written into law then you need to tell your bosses to put it into law. Being expected to pay for a service provider's debt is only something that might happen if the service provider holds a monopoly position and of course the council automatically has an absolute monopoly on the services it provides. However in the free market where there is healthy competition, the customers would not be expected to pay for the provider's own problems. For example if we were to arrange a company to mow our lawns and they would begin charging inflated prices citing their debt as the reason and that they have historically set their prices very low then we would simply get someone else. So, charge us rates that fairly represent the services that you are providing and we will gladly pay them.
4. Your letter states that the government will not bail out Kaipara district council. Clearly the government does not want to set a precedent that states that they will bail out any other local body that gets itself into trouble. Also in the same way that it is unfair to ask the ratepayers for the clean up, it would also be unfair to ask the taxpayer to pay for the clean up. However there is another side of the coin, which is that the government has people in place to watch over local governments and clearly these have failed. Therefore the government (past and present) carries some responsibility and needs to front up.
5. Your letter also states that the banks will not write the debt off. Even if they would be inclined to do so, they also do not want to set a precedent that states that they will so easily write debt off whenever any local bodies or similar organisations get into trouble. However was it right that the banks loaned the money in the first place? If I were to buy a house (which costs considerably less than a sewerage scheme), the bank would require securities and it would do some research to make sure that I can pay for the loan at all. What about securities in the case of KDC? Shouldn't they have done a bit more research into what they were handing all that money out for? Shouldn't they have been aware that the activities going on were illegal? Someone clearly didn't do their job and therefore the bank also carries responsibility and needs to front up! Furthermore, the ratepayers never entered into any contract with this bank / these banks, how is it then that they have the right to pursue ratepayers who failed to pay?
6. The report from the Auditor-General's office will not be available for several months. Until then perhaps everything should simply be frozen and there shouldn't be any rates charged by you and paid by us until we all are on the same page. Isn't everything else simply premature?
7. Over the last few years we have been paying rates which were illegally set. We have a right to set off our current rates bill against these invalid rates which you now owe us. Why are you charging us a 10% penalty for unpaid rates when you owe us money?! Should we not be charging you a 10% penalty instead? We therefore ask you to drop the penalty immediately.
8. Your letter states clearly that the previous administration handled money poorly. How can we have confidence that this has changed? And how can we have confidence that the recent rates increases are not merely the first of many? In the future please provide much more information on council spending so that the whole situation can be more transparent to us all.
The only precedent that wont be set is that the little guys (the ratepayers) will need to pay for the clean up, which is why we're being asked to do so.
Bob Newman 10.12.12
When I lived in Manurewa, John Robertson was the highly respected Mayor of our neighbours in Papakura. Another of our Commissioners in Kaipara, Colin Dale, whom I hope I can count as being a personal friend, was Chief Executive Officer of Manukau City, after a long career in the Council’s community work, where he ensured that its work for the community made it an example to all local bodies in New Zealand.
It is therefore sad to see them as a part of a team whose main function seems to be to extort from the ratepayers of this small District payment for the illegalities and mismanagement of their predecessors in the Council. Far from working for the community, they have so far declined even to meet with ratepayers’ groups. They have shut their ears to the concerns of people here expressed, when all else seems to have failed, in a widespread strike in the payment of rates.
Mr. Roberston says that Kaipara rates have been set too low. When I came here nearly two years ago I found that my rates, even allowing for the charges made by Watercare, would be about $500 greater than they were on a similarly-valued property in Manurewa; so I am not sure what he would think was a reasonable level in this District. This year’s demands are approximately 50% greater, with a guaranteed further large increase in 2013.
Compared with the many benefits I received as a Manukau ratepayer, the only return here seems to be a minimal amount spent on roads, a bureaucracy, and an overpriced and failing sewage scheme. The many services provided there by Council occur here only through the local initiative of our people, with little or no help from Council.
There is still some doubt about ratepayers’ actual obligation to pay for a sewage scheme authorised under a process of dubious legality. Some months ago we were promised a report on the scheme from the Auditor General in November, but this has now been deferred until; the unspecified future. This leads to t a suspicion that it may contain material which officialdom does not want to hear, and that it will be postponed again and yet again –while the Council continues to seek to levy rates of questionable legality.
Mangawhai Resident 07.12.12
Letter to John Robertson, chair of commissioners:
Good morning John
Firstly I would like to thank you for attempting to keeping us informed of the debacle you are facing at the Kaipara Council. I am sure there are many hurdles ahead of you and your team. I am in receipt of the ratepayers letter yesterday and would like to make a couple of points if I may?
In the debt section, you suggest that historically the rates have been set very low. I totally disagree with this statement. The rates were set in accordance with the rating values of the properties at the time and if KDC did not met its day today costs, then something is wrong, very wrong. I ask myself “what have I got for my rates” so let’s take a quick look into that;
Household Rubbish Collection: No, we pay for this service separately with a bag collection
Public Area Rubbish Collection: NON EXISTENT. The collection of rubbish at Wood Street, the Village, the main surf beach and the Estuary is disgusting! Every weekend we have been there for about the past 2-3 months, all of the bins are overflowing onto the ground area and seagulls have got into the bins. It is a disgrace to say the least and would in no part attract any new residents into the area.
Estuary: The estuary is a disgrace. As one of the main focal points of Mangawhai the waters edge and grassed surroundings are terrible. What used to be a lovely quaint estuary is becoming nothing short of an ugly overgrown area that just so happens to have access to water, as well as stormwater discharge.
Street Lighting: Limited
Footpaths: Only On one side of the road only in most places. In our street half of the lights are not working and haven’t done so for nearly a year!
Mown Public Areas: A classic example is when you arrive into Mangawhai Heads up the causeway and at the corner of Seabreeze Rd, the grass Council verge is so overgrown and the low level block wall signage at Seabreeze Rd is missing letters, and has done so for a couple of years. Great introduction to Mangawhai Heads….NOT. Given this is a Council asset why is this not regularly mown and the signage replaced?
Skate Park: A real focal point for kids on bikes and skateboards alike, but the area needs a real tidy up. The entry from the main road is overgrown and needs a lot of work. I realise that maybe this is being done with money being raised however but still……..
Water Supply: No, everyone is on tank water collected from roofs
Stormwater: No, Mangawhai is all on soakage with swales as overflows
It would seem that Council have run “riot” for a number of years and it’s time to put an end to the beaurocratic BS that Councils live in. The world has changed, and it’s time for a change at KDC in its thinking, in its culture, and in its spending habits!
The $79.1 million debt was initially only meant to be around $30 Million and so my question is “where has the additional $40 million gone?” This has never been explained to anyone as to where the overrun was spent? So, where has this money gone?
In the rates section you mention that 73% of Kaipara ratepayers have paid their rates in full and on time. What percentage of Mangawhai residents have paid their rates in full and on time as the districts percentage skews the overall disgruntlement of the Mangawhai ratepayers. I suspect that if you look at Mangawhai District the percentage will be much much higher.
In your third paragraph you mention about how you believe that it is not fair of those not paying their way and that some properties are being negatively impacted because of this? Consider from the ratepayers point of view the additional $40 million that was spent without consultation or agreement from ratepayers, I would consider this as grossly unfair as opposed to the minor 8.5% who are withholding payments?? It’s certainly of no doing of the individual ratepayers that has caused this mess you are tasked to sort out.
Essentially the KDC were operating out of budget, and didn’t seem to give a toss! Where were the checks and balances of higher authorities, is it not central Government that is supposed to be providing an overview of all local Councils?
As you mention there is lots to do. I have been coming to Mangawhai for 33 years (since I was 8) and I have seen the area change significantly. If only I could say it has changed for the better though, unfortunately I can’t.
For Mangawhai to grow (both as a community and as a place of being), and for it to be considered alongside the likes of Pauanui, Omaha, Paihia, Coromandel and the like, we need things to happen. Currently Mangawhai is unfortunately seen as the distant poor cousin in lots of peoples eyes.
John, I sincerely hope your team can turn it around because with only an hour out from the likes of Auckland and Whangarei, the potential for Mangawhai to be a real jewel in Northland.
Andrew Mackintosh 07.12.12
Dear Hon Dave Carrter,
The Commissioners aren’t interested in responding to me directly, and have appointed the KDC CEO’s personal assistant to reply to me. From the information she has since provided it appears that KDC have charged rates itemised as “Kaiwaka Wastewater Connected” (targeted rates) totalling $192,000 to pay an annual maintenance bill of just $104,000…… this represents an overcharge of $84,000, or $525/affected rate payer, which apparently is of no concern to the well paid Commissioners, but is quite a significant overcharge to the average rate payer in Kaiwaka.
With respect to the Commissioners intent to consult with the community, I understand they declined to attend a recent Mangawhai Resident Ratepayers Association meeting, so I’m not holding my breath – public lip service and propaganda only goes so far. I understand that these Commissioners are costing the ratepayers in the vicinity of $15,000 per week. At this point it seems like a very poor investment.
There is more than one legal opinion that the current KDC rates are invalid, and whilst there are blatantly incorrect rate charges like the above I have no intention of paying my invalid rates x 3 properties, and nor do my parents, and nor does my daughter, and nor do my neighbours. A rate increase from $637.90 last year to $2,009.60 this year is not acceptable Dave, and as the MP for LG, you need to sort this mess out!
Pete Grierson 05.12.12
We received our last rates bill last week, along with the plea from John Robertson that we should all support the commissioners in their efforts to fix the KDC's financial situation by paying our overdue rates. I don't have a copy of the letter with me so I'm going from memory.
The main thrust of his letter from what I recall, was that he used the word "fair" a lot - i.e. is it fair that those who are paying their rates are subsidising those who aren't?
Well, on one had, you'd have to say quite clearly that it is not fair but I wish to turn the question around, and ask: have the people of the district ever been treated fairly since this all began? Maybe if fairness had been applied to the ratepayers, then we might be of an inclination to return the favour. But as fairness is conspicuous by its absence, then I find it offensive for Mr Robertson to turn around and ask for those of us who are withholding our rates to give some leeway to the KDC, when none has been given to us - all we've ever received is the council's foot on our collective throats.
I noted many factual inaccuracies (read: downright lies) in his letter. Such as his comments about the LTP, yet he made no mention of this being illegal as it was adopted out of time.
The one aspect about this whole sorry saga which annoys me the most is that there are several local, and governmental agencies who are supposed to protect the citizenry in their time of need, starting with the council themselves, and going up to the Minister for Local Government, passing the Ombudsman etc on the way, and all of them have abandoned us to the whims of KDC, right at the time when we need some high-level support the most. So what are we to do if we can't rely on the people on whom we're supposed to rely on in times like these? It should be no surprise that the rates strike has taken place.
I await now for the OAG's report - I hope that they will be ruthless with their investigation into themselves as they have promised to be.
I also hope that the Commissioner's will take the legal opinion that Bruce has now obtained seriously and take some steps to address the issue(s) - we will take this to the High Court if necessary, of course, funding our case ourselves, while the KDC would defend themselves with more of our own money.
I reiterate that I am not one who is advocating for a government bail out. I think that Mr Robertson should (and could) guide the KDC towards a managed insolvency. Let the banks come and take whatever KDC assets they can, and if they take a bath and lose money, then that's fine with me. I still think that in that case, the banks should go after those who signed off on the illegal contract extensions, and make them personally liable. Jack McKerchar for one, has plenty of spare cash to pay them back with. It would also be a salutary warning to the banks, councils and central Government. But leave the Kaipara ratepayers out if this - we have acted honestly at all times, and we are the innocent parties in this mess.
Concerned Mangawhai Resident 05.12.12
(Largely in response to the letter from commissioners' chair John Robertson accompanying the third instalment of rates.)
Dear Mr. Robertson
We are writing to clarify our position on our non-payment of rates, and to respond to your letter which arrived with our rates.
We are a law-abiding property owner, and we have always in the past paid our rates in full and on time. We have been forced to hold back payment of our rates for several reasons, which we set out in our letter dated 17th October 2012 at which time we paid our NRC rates instalment No. 2
While the core reason for our non-payment is that we believe that the rates have been levied ultra vires there are other factors which have pushed us to make this stand.
Council, its officers or advisors have overspent on the Sewerage scheme, which has lumbered us as ratepayers with an unsustainable debt. We believe that associated with poor management decisions in the past are poor ethical standards and questionable practices.
We are being asked to pay for these errors or omissions before investigations are complete, and before any plan or action to recover moneys from those responsible for the debt has been taken.
In addition we have serious concerns that the Office of the Auditor General is investigating matters. One concern is whether the OAG itself was negligent in its audit of the council. Not only should the investigation be independent, it should be seen to be independent. We will await the result of their enquiry.
The lenders should also bear responsibility for continuing to lend without reasonable commercial standard of care. We are not able to borrow on our property far above our ability to pay. The same rules should have been applied by the banks to the KDC.
So against the background of these serious issues we feel that a rates protest is the most effective way in which we can ensure that steps are taken to address these historic issues, and that the creators of the problem are held responsible rather than loading it on present and future ratepayers.
In direct response to your letter and under the same headings:
We cannot believe the comment that rates were set very low. Many people pay more for their rates at Mangawhai than they do in Auckland and services are minimal. Perhaps other areas of Kaipara were low, but certainly not Mangawhai or perhaps the council was just living beyond its means. The council borrowed just to pay day-to-day expenses – we agree that this was poor and not managed at all well. But where was the OAG to check this and why were the ratepayers not notified?
A plan to reduce the debt over 10 years does not address the problem in any meaningful way. The debt will be there for ever at that rate, with compound interest adding every year. The only true way to reduce the debt is to recover from the parties at fault (or their insurance companies).
We do NOT expect the Government to bail us out. So you have not spoken to Government on this on our behalf. We DO expect you to support every means of recovering our wrongfully spent money, even if this means funding legal action for the Council to take to recover monies. ( However, if the Government can bail out a commercial enterprise like South Canterbury Finance then logically this is no different. Perhaps the northern MPs are not as forceful as their southern colleagues.)
We have sympathy to the view that the Council should be bankrupted. If the banks lend to a level far above what the asset is worth, why should they not be forced to take responsibility for such irresponsible lending? The Banks would not lend us monies that we could not afford to repay. It would be helpful to see the legal advice on your assertion that a Receiver can arbitrarily make ratepayers pay the Bank for illegal Council debts. Your proposed solutions to reduce the debt gradually but really do nothing to eliminate it are a death sentence to Mangawhai. Values will decline, development cease, and it will revert to a low-ratepaying backwater – the never-never projected repayments will not even meet the reduction to $60 million.
The rates were set illegally. We are absolutely clear that they must NOT be paid. We find your tone threatening, which was probably intended, but it is not productive.
Your statistics are misleading. We paid the first rates bill so count in your numbers as “part payment” . We expect that the second instalment percentage unpaid are much higher, and also we would like to know how you count the effect of those like us who have paid NDC rates only. We ask that these figures be supplied to ratepayers.
You believe that some are paying their way and some are not. We see it that those who can are standing up on behalf of those who cannot ‘afford’ the perceived risk or stress of not paying and are threatened by the 10% penalty. Nearly all ratepayers are law-abiding citizens and normally it is the last thing in mind to not pay rates. It is a big decision to withhold payment, even when you are sure that they are illegal.
Your next paragraph I can partly agree with. Yes there are significant issues with past and present rates. You must work to resolve the past issues and come up with a credible plan to recover past money and interest. We cannot consider paying rates until that plan is in place, and also that the rates are struck legally, in particular with a properly consulted and approved Long Term Plan.
Thank you for working in our interests on this.
Contracting services out:
It is excellent that you are addressing contacting out issues – perhaps it is not the contracting out per se but the management of them – when it got to the stage that supervision was contracted out then it would seem that it was open season to maximise fees with little regard for the cost to the ratepayer.
This is as mentioned before key to the resolution of the problems. We trust that the report and all discussions will be fully public. We can then evaluate the position going forward.
Long term plan:
It is our understanding that this was not legally adopted. This needs to be addressed and your comments on actions over the next couple of months are promising. Until that process is complete there is no valid basis for charging rates at all.
Role of commissioners:
The role responsibilities look good and it is promising that the staff are working with you, and that you are addressing the issues with urgency. It is clear that we have a different viewpoints on why we are not paying rates. We believe that if the core debt is not recovered from those responsible then Mangawhai is doomed as a modern vibrant community. As soon as the OAG report is out the best way to restore community confidence is for you to take visible and vigorous to pursue those at fault. I understand you cannot do this until you have the report, equally you must understand that we cannot pay illegal rates until there is a resolution and a valid LTP which is based on such recovery.
Just imagine if this situation was in Papakura, when it was stand-alone, and it was your rates which had spiralled out of control destroying property values and community spirit. All this as a result of the actions of a few not being held accountable because it is easier to let them go and lump the problem onto ratepayers.
We quote the purpose of the Kaipara Commission:
“… to work with the community and other stakeholders to develop and implement enduring solutions to the challenges currently facing the Council.”
We need true leadership from you to achieve enduring solutions.
Concerned Mangawhai Resident
Rob Warren 05.12.12
The recent letter received by ratepayers unfortunately confirms much of what many hoped would not eventuate. It illustrates clearly that the commissioners are simply a continuation of the previous regime, and have no intention of applying any effort to acknowledge or address any of the serious and reprehensible actions of a sanctioned group of clowns.
The inference and general tone of the letter is simply incredulous, and one is left wondering how or why a supposed adult would have the ignorance to associate themselves as being the author. The paragraph which is the most transparent in my view is (and I quote):
"We do not believe it is fair that some Kaipara ratepayers pay their way and others don’t. Nor do we believe it is fair that the property values of some people in the district are being negatively impacted because of the actions of a few."
This infantile and corrosive statement sealed the lid for us personally. Here is a person (the author), whom we expected to have the personal acumen to have the ability to lead professionally evaluate a situation, draw a morally sound opinion, and move towards a reasonable and agreeable outcome.
Instead we are subjected to a childish and puerile attempt using the tired and worn-out "divide and conquer" scenario commonly adopted in the corporate sector. The attempt to isolate and "sideline" those historically loyal and morally upstanding ratepayers who dare to object is farcical.
The inane statistics, the belittling of those - and alleging that they are devaluing other residents property values, is nauseating.
This primary-school level script, serves nothing more than to harden the resolve of those who choose to object to this bully-boy behaviour.
If the author had any level of professional awareness as to the real reasons for his galactically ridiculous allegations relating to property values, he would already be familiar with the content in this morning's four-page NZ Herald property article entitled " Coastal property: Broken glass in the sparkling sand". However it is more likely that he has been busy balancing his own cheque account.
It is now blatantly apparent that challenging this reprehensible attitude is going to take some considerable effort, given the likes of what this letter conveys.