Rates remission policy for Maori land considered

The development of a rates remission policy for Maori ancestral land is to be considered by Dunedin city councillors today.

The merits of such a policy are being looked at after the Ngai Tahu Maori Law Centre called during this year's annual plan process for rates remission for Maori freehold land not producing revenue.

In a report to be tabled at today's finance committee meeting, senior management accountant Carolyn Allan said there was no specific policy for rates remission for Maori at present.

Some Maori land was listed as abandoned, which allowed rates to be written off, but the law centre said listing Maori land as such was "highly insensitive'', Ms Allan said.

Having a policy would remove any doubts about what properties could be remitted and could create scope for some owners to develop or utilise the land in question.

A disadvantage of having such a policy was that considering whether properties qualified for rates remission would require administration resources.

If councillors voted in favour of developing a policy, staff, after consulting local Maori groups, would bring it back to council next year.

At annual plan hearings in May, Ngai Tahu Maori Law Centre senior solicitor Desiree Williams called on the council to introduce a policy on the issue, as other councils had.

Ms Williams said a "very minimal'' amount of land was involved, and the owners of blocks being used "should and do'' pay rates.

A 2.8ha block between Karitane and Seacliff owned by William and Mary Ellison, and three other people who were all deceased, was an example of where a policy was needed.

The block was landlocked and inaccessible, and could not generate income or be leased, but the Ellisons had paid tens of thousands of dollars in rates.

The couple were not keen to abandon Maori land.

"Maori hold the view they are inexorably connected to the land.''

The centre's written submission said not having a policy was causing "significant hardship for the local Maori population'' and having to pay rates on land that was not producing revenue prevented owners from developing land.

The council report said it did not have a list of Maori land, but a search of the council's database found there were 261 properties in Dunedin, which had a combined capital value of $91.5 million.

However, due to the possibility some Maori land had been sold and was now privately owned, the precise number of properties and the total value was unknown.

vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz

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