RATEPAYERS in the Whakatane district owe more than $7 million in unpaid rates and penalties.

As at March 31, ratepayers owed the Whakatane District Council and Bay of Plenty Regional Council $6.68 million in unpaid land rates and penalties, a 2.45 percent increase on the same time last year.

Ratepayers also owe the Whakatane council $0.88 million in unpaid water rates and penalties, a 27.53 percent increase on the same time last year.

Debt on Maori-owned land makes up 51 percent of the total debt, up from 48 percent last year.

Communities holding the most rate debt are those who face the highest levels of deprivation: Ruatoki and surrounds hold (25 percent of land rate debt); rural areas (28 percent); Murupara (21 percent), Whakatane and Coastlands (10 percent); Matata (8 percent); Taneatua (5 percent) and Edgecumbe (3 percent). Ohope holds no rate debt.
Councillor Nandor Tanczos asked staff at the council’s organisational committee meeting last week what they were doing to reduce rate debt on Maori land.

General manager finance and corporate services Helen Barnes said staff had been doing work to find out who owned land and to try and recover money from the owners or work out a payment plan.

She said figures would tell the same story “year after year” unless the Government made “some kind of legislative shift.

Ms Barnes said it could be hard for the council to recover debt from land that had multiple owners or no clear owner.