Rates ruling and resignation rock Kaipara Council

A tumultuous two weeks at Kaipara District Council has seen years of regional rates and penalties quashed, staff salary levels criticised and the unexpected resignation of its chief officer just over a year into his term.

On August 17, the High Court ruled that Northland Regional Council rates and penalties collected via Kaipara for the five years 2011/12 to 2015/16 were not lawfully set and should be set aside, though the judge stopped short of ordering a refund to ratepayers.

On August 22, the Taxpayers’ Union annual local government league table, the Ratepayers’ Report, revealed that Kaipara staff were the best paid in New Zealand, with a higher proportion of officials receiving salaries over $100,000 than any other council – 19 per cent, compared with the national average of 10 per cent.

Jordan Williams, executive director of the Taxpayers’ Union, said Kaipara also had the highest ratio of staff to ratepayers, the highest costs and and highest debt in Northland.

Then, on Friday August 25, Kaipara chief executive Graham Sibery unexpectedly resigned only 13 months after he was appointed for a five-year term. He was appointed in July last year by independent commissioners, who had been appointed to run the council by the government in 2012 and were in charge until the 2016 council elections.

Kaipara has remained tight-lipped on all three matters, issuing only a brief response to a range of questions submitted to Mayor Greg Gent and Graham Sibery. With regard to the rates ruling, a spokesman said Kaipara had a crown manager appointed to manage historic legal issues and “we await his advice and further legal advice on this matter”.

Concerning the Ratepayers’ Report findings, Council pointed out that its overall staff costs remained below the average costs incurred by other councils, thanks to its appointing a number of professional staff, including engineers and planners, rather than paying outside consultants and contractors.
Its response to requests for information over Graham Sibery’s resignation was limited to one line: “It is a private employment matter and an announcement on recruitment will be made in due course.”

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