Catholic parish properties are among those facing huge council rates rises in Auckland.

In August, Auckland Council issued new rates bills to many churches which classified all or parts of affected properties as subject to rates and not exempt under the law.

The council reportedly did this without consultation. But council spokespeople have told media that what they have done is in line with the law and they have backed this up with legal advice.

According to the Local Government Act (2002), properties used as a place of religious worship, religious education or theological education are exempt from rates. But many church offices used for administration purposes have been assessed as not coming under this exemption. Church halls which are hired out some of the time are likewise not exempt. Rather they are considered as a type of business unit.

One example of a large increase in assessed rates for a Catholic property is in Sacred Heart Parish in Ponsonby where the rates on the 22 Vermont Street property went up from $218 in 2017 to $17,822 this year. (When the property information for 22
Vermont St is checked on the council’s website, it is stated that the improvements to the property are “Church and St Columba Centre”; the centre is actually at 40 Vermont St. A parish hall is next to the church.)

The hall is primarily used for worship and/or religious education, but has two groups paying to use on a limited basis. NZ Catholic understands that these two groups involve children’s Irish dancing and tango dancing for three hours a week each. The
St Columba Centre has rooms which are hired out to a variety of church and non-church groups, and is also used for theological education purposes.

The Pompallier Diocesan Centre in Ponsonby is facing a rates rise of some $70,000 from last year, NZ Catholic understands.

The Auckland Council gave churches until August 31 to have the first instalment of their 2018/19 rates deferred, while councillors reviewed the issue.

NZ Catholic understands that Auckland parishes have combined their submissions on this issue under the leadership of the bishop. An interdenominational church group has taken it up with Mayor Phil Goff. It is understood that the mayor replied that the
matter has been referred to the council’s Finance and Performance Committee.

Other churches throughout Auckland affected by the council move have told media that they cannot afford to pay the rates and some might have to close or reduce services.

Auckland Catholic diocese spokesperson Dame Lyndsay Freer told Radio New Zealand that if the Church had to pay the new rates bills it would have a “huge impact.”

“It’s a lot of money we’re talking about and, for us, there’s a considerable lack of clarity.

“We understand that the rates are for premises on our properties that are not used specifically for the purposes of worship, but we do have many buildings and facilities that are used for pastoral and not-for-profit work.

“There really does need to be clarification around what would qualify and what wouldn’t.”

According to a report on the Stuff website, a statement from Auckland Council said the review — to investigate which religious properties were using their premises for revenue, such as hall hire — began in 2016.

“The review was about fairness and to ensure all properties across Auckland were being treated the same as per the legislation,” the council’s head of rates valuations and data management Debbie Acott said.

“Once the review was complete, we wrote to all the properties again advising of the outcome and the changes to each property rates.”

Nearly 10,500 properties were reviewed, and of those, 20 were made fully rateable and 392 had their rates adjusted.

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