Piako Rating Dispute
11 July 2002
The Court of Appeal has released its decision upholding Environment Waikato's decision on rating for the Piako flood control scheme. The decision was appealed by the Piako Upper Catchment Group and Rodney Luxton in parallel cases.
Graeme Trower, chairman of the Piako Upper Catchment Group said, "The decision is disappointing for the hundreds of people who have generously given their moral and financial support in the battle for a fair rating system."
"The Court relied on the wide discretions and powers that the Rating Powers Act gives councils to rate. The judges pointed out that the particular section that Environment Waikato relied upon for the contributor rate "is not concerned with legal or moral fault or blame". They confirmed our interpretation that the contributor rate is no more than a rainfall tax."
The Court acknowledged that the appellants' land in the Morrinsville and Matamata areas 'is not enhanced in any tangible way' by the flood control scheme for which they are required to pay direct drainage benefit rates. However, the Court was persuaded by Environment Waikato that the Rating Power Act 'implicitly expands the ordinary connotation of the expression "direct benefit".
"What disappoints us most is that the decision was based on the specific provisions of Rating Powers Act, and not those in the Local Government Act, which are more principled and allow councils fewer discretions to do as they choose," said Mr Trower. "The Rating Powers Act has now been repealed, and if Environment Waikato had any moral fibre, it would allow an independent review of its decision against the Local Government Act alone."
Mr Trower agrees with Environment Waikato's chairman Neil Clarke that this is a hallmark decision having implications throughout New Zealand. "Mr Clarke's comments that other councils have been anxiously awaiting this decision can only mean that other councils will be rating every landowner in a river catchment to fund the protection of people on floodplains. Lowland people will be making demands for new schemes, knowing that they will be subsidised."
"It invites all councils to return to bad habits such as vote garnishing, by allowing them to ignore the principle that rates must be related to benefit," concluded Mr Trower.