Rates stoush costs escalate

TWEED ratepayers face a lawyers’ bill of $400,000 – and growing – as a campaigner against rates increases takes a legal battle to the High Court.

Tweed Shire Council’s corporate services director Troy Green has revealed the legal challenge against the council’s seven-year plan, produced in 2006 – which includes rate rises above the yearly cap for most councils – is hitting hard.

He told councillors the costs were likely to be ‘well in excess of $400,000’ even though the council has won most of the battle so far and been awarded substantial legal costs.

He said Tweed accountant Terry Sharples, who began the court challenge to the rate rises in 2008, applied to the High Court three days before Christmas to appeal after an earlier plea to the NSW Court of Appeals was dismissed.

Mr Sharples could not be contacted for comment on the latest court challenge, but has said the results of a council survey in 2006 used to support the seven-year infrastructure plan in submissions to the NSW Local Government Minister were wrong.

He has based his challenge on that argument and previously told the Tweed Daily News: “It’s a huge and disgusting situation that this could have been allowed to happen”.

If his court challenge is eventually successful, the council might have to revisit its seven-year-plan, which relied on rates increases of 9.5 per cent last financial year (2009-2010), 8.5 per cent this year and 7.5 per cent for the next two years.

The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, which was given responsibility by the NSW Government last June for setting a cap on rates, has ruled that most councils cannot raise their rates above 2.8 per cent rate for next year (2011-12) sparking complaints from councils.

Mr Green has told Tweed councillors the decision by Mr Sharples to take his case to the High Court means the council could spend another $60,000 defending the case.


Court costs:

In the past six months council has paid out $18,555 to defend its special rates against Mr Sharples’ challenge.

Mr Sharples lodged his first appeal against the seven-year plan and rates rises in 2008. It was rejected. He had to pay one-third of council costs.

The NSW Court of Appeal rejected a further appeal in March 2010.Mr Sharples had to pay one third of council costs.

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