We know that local government is in great need of some real reform. We’re now getting some real examples of just how far off agreed processes local government have got. And now we have an example of a Mayor meddling, attempting to get special attention and wasting staff resources… all while refusing to pay his own rates, charges and penalties.
The Office of the Auditor General has today released its findings in a case between Mayor Wayne Brown and the Far North District Council. Yes, another case of a public official telling constituents to do as a say, not as I do.
It seems that Mayor Brown has refused to pay a bunch of rates and charges because he doesn’t agree with how they were calculated. Now, by a bunch I actually mean a fair whack – at least that’s what the Far North District Council told Brown.
The Council said that Brown owed:
- $55, 000 in unpaid rates and sewerage charges
- $135,833 in sewerage reticulation charges
Mayor Brown’s calculation was more like $55,000 for the sewerage reticulation charges. So, the OAG was charged with unravelling what was actually owed.
The OAG found that the likely amount owed by Mayor Brown was $76,487.09. They also said:
We note that the Council has gone outside normal processes several times and made unusual agreements. These decisions were made in good faith to help find solutions for Mr Brown, but they left the Council in a more uncertain position when things went wrong. With hindsight, these decisions may not have been wise. The Council has also made a number of administrative and calculation mistakes, which have contributed to the uncertainty about whether it was charging the correct amounts.
And, yes Mayor Brown has asked that any penalties due in this timeframe (over two years) shouldn’t be added to his bill. The OAG suggests that Mayor Brown was not treated the same as any other ratepayer. I’d go as far as suggesting he misused his position as Mayor:
the Council has spent a considerable amount of staff time and money on this dispute – much more than the total penalties. The Council must also consider how it would treat any other ratepayer who withheld rates for nearly two years, given that the normal legal obligation in the Local Government (Rating) Act 2002 is to pay rates and then dispute them. Under the Act, penalties will generally accrue if a person does not pay rates while they are disputed.
I am looking forward to other Far North District Council ratepayers being treated with the same level of leniency and not being demanded to pay up front. At the same time it is a bloody worry that the Council can’t work out how much an individual or their company owes? If I were a ratepayer in the Far North I’d be questioning my rates bill right about now.