Kaipara ratepayers’ hopes of securing millions of dollars in rates refunds have been dashed following a Court of Appeal decision late last month.
The possibility of refunds emerged after a High Court decision ruled that that rates collected by the Kaipara District Council on behalf of Northland Regional Council (NRC) between the years 2011 and 2016 were invalid.
In response, Northland Regional Council filed an urgent appeal with the Court of Appeal challenging the High Court ruling.
Although the Appeal Court said there were some unlawful breaches by the NRC in setting the rates, the court said they were nonetheless valid and penalties imposed by the NRC on those who had failed to pay the contested rates were also valid.
In addition, the Court awarded costs against the Mangawhai Ratepayers and Residents association and its chair, Bruce Rogan, who contested the NRC case. Afterward, Mr Rogan described the Appeal Court decision as one of the most disgraceful pieces of judicial activism that NZ has ever seen. The court decision effectively meant that Councils were above the law.
“Ratepayers are expected to comply with the law, but councils are not expected to comply with the law.
That is absolutely anti-democratic and an absolute disgrace,” he said.
Mr Rogan estimated it cost him and the association about $10,000 to fight the case in the Court of Appeal. The association will now have to stump up thousands of dollars more to pay NRC costs.
In addition, Mr Rogan expects to personally face Council demands for unpaid bills and penalties related to the disputed rates, which he has not paid.
He thought it was unlikely that he would go bankrupt, but said it was not out of the question.
“The Council have absolutely no limit on how much they can spend. They can go and hire the most expensive QC in the country, and it’s all coming out of ratepayers’ pockets. Whereas we, as private citizens, have to find money out of our personal savings,” he said.
Meanwhile, the NRC has welcomed the Court of Appeal decision.
Council chairman Bill Shepherd said it provided “much-needed clarity” for ratepayers and councils all over New Zealand.
Mr Shepherd estimated the cost of the Council appeal to be between $170,000 to $190,000.