The dead must pay their rates

ACCORDING to Tom O’Connor, his mother never owed a cent in rates.

Yet bizarrely, 27 years after her death and the sale of the family farm, Bellingen Shire Council is saying long-time Brierfield resident Margaret O’Connor owes a total of $16,800 in outstanding rates and intends auctioning the land to recoup the money.

“The rates are being charged for small parcels of land that were left over when the council straightened out the Brierfield Road back in the 1970s. One of the parcels is only 50 square metres, some are two hundred square metres.”

His sister, Joan Palmer, said she recalled the council buying the land for the road deviation from her mother in 1972.

“They paid her about $100 but there was never any paperwork,” Mrs Palmer said. “It is upsetting to see her name tarnished like this.”

The O’Connors are among a number of well known local families caught up in the peculiar bureaucratic circle of unpaid rates, which was forced onto the local council when the NSW Department of Lands decided to tidy up loose parcels of land six years ago.

Bellingen council’s director of corporate services, Peter Wilson, said it was a real conundrum.

“Once the Department identified the parcels, they were valued for rating purposes and the details were forwarded to us.

“We were obliged under the legislation to levy rates albeit to owners who might have been deceased.

“We are between a rock and a hard place.”

Mr Wilson said even after the planned February auction, the situation might not be resolved.

“It is unlikely anyone will buy these tiny parcels but we still would not have the title to the land and would still have to levy rates!”

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