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Request To AG For Opinion On ARC Rates Demand

Request To Auditor-General For Opinion On ARC Rates Demand Action


Below is a copy of a letter e-mailed to the Auditor General requesting his opinion on the appropriateness and legality of the decision by the Auckland Regional Council to initiate legal action against a selected group of ratepayers.

Chairman; David Thornton

4 February 2004

Auditor - General WELLINGTON

Dear Mr Brady,

No doubt you are aware of the resolution of the Rating Special Committee of the Auckland Regional Council yesterday to commence a course of legal action against a selective group of ratepayers who have not paid their rates for the current financial year

This decision is by way of a recommendation to the full ARC council meeting on 23rd February.

The criteria for selecting this group of ratepayers is;-

* They have no mortgagee.
* The rates owing are in excess $500.
* The ratepayer has not made contact with the council.

There was no resolution concerning other ratepayers who owed $500 or less - except that any debts below $5 would not be pursued.

The selected group would be sent a solicitors letter demanding payment and threatening legal action for recovery.

In selecting just this group to receive this letter the council has indicated that this process is intended to 'frighten' all other non-payers, into paying.

Although not recorded, the council says it will take no other legal action prior to a further meeting of the Committee on 9th March.

In the interim the council's officers state that they have sent out a 'second reminder letter' to all ratepayers who have not paid, or have paid less than the full amount [excluding those paying by direct debit, or by an agreed payment schedule].

The officers further propose to send out a third and final demand letter in three weeks time. Seven days after that they propose to send out the 'Solicitors Demand Letter'.

There are over 40,000 ratepayers who have not paid anything, and a further 57,000 who have only part paid - a total of more than 97,000 defaulting ratepayers.

The ARC is unwilling to estimate how many of the 97,000 owe more than $500 but I understand from earlier reports that there will be a relatively small percentage in that category.

On that basis I believe that the council is failing to treat all defaulters equally - which represents a denial of natural justice.

Indeed the officer report on the subject refers to this group as 'test cases'.

I also point out that the criteria that the selected ratepayers should NOT have contacted the council must be unworkable - unless, that is, the council checks every selected ratepayers name against the file of the hundreds of letters we know were sent to the council, and the 40,000 names on the petitions we presented to the council, and against the telephone log of thousands of ratepayers who called the council or its agent EDS.

I would ask you to give your opinion as to the appropriateness and legality of the ARC initiating legal action against a selective group of ratepayers in this way, without, at the same time, initiating similar action against all defaulting ratepayers - or resolving not to seek recovery of debts below $500

I suggest it would be useful to have this opinion prior to the Council meeting of 23rd February

Yours sincerely

David Thornton

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