More than 400 churches have been caught up in an Auckland Council snafu that saw their rates rise substantially – in one case by 6900 per cent, to about $28,000.
The invoices, which were sent out without council input, are currently under urgent review following an uproar from the religious community. But if the charges are left to stand, some may be forced to close, Auckland Councillor Daniel Newman told TVNZ 1’s Breakfast this morning.
“It’s creating a lot of upset and heartache,” he said. “The fact that we’re even invoicing these people without a (council) decision is bad.
“We seem to be doing what we do best, which is offending Aucklanders. That needs to stop.”
City officials justified the increases by pointing out that many churches have been using their properties for business purposes, such as charging for parking.
But the facilities are also used for a variety of charitable purposes such as food banks, support for people with addictions, counselling services, support for refugees and immigrants and values-based education, Mr Newman pointed out.
“These are very intrinsic and valuable services that these churches are providing,” he argued. “And if these rates invoices are charged, and the rates apply, a lot of these services will simply not be able to be funded to continue.”
Mr Newman said he isn’t convinced the churches are running a commercial operation.
"Obviously, it’s a great surprise to them, and it’s a great surprise to people like me who don’t want these churches to be rated,“ he said.
Councillor Desley Simpson, chair of the Finance and Performance Committee, told RNZ that the churches won’t have to pay the rates until the mayor and councillors can reach an agreement on how they should be billed.
"I've asked the finance team to contact the churches who have had rates rises and give them the opportunity to defer that payment - not pay the first quarter until a full report has come," she said.