Rates campaigner Terry Martin stands to lose the farm he ‘slaved day and night’ to pay off.
Rates campaigner Terry Martin stands to lose the farm he ‘slaved day and night’ to pay off.

Rates campaigner could lose home

BELLINGEN Shire rates campaigner Terry Martin is one of three pensioners who stand to lose their homes when Bellingen Shire Council sells up 28 land parcels for unpaid rates.

Council has advertised to auction the land, for which no rates have been paid for more than five years and no effort has been made to make arrangements to pay, on February 19 next year.

Peter Wilson, Bellingen Shire Council’s manager of corporate business, said 25 were residential properties, one was a business property and two were farm land. Sixteen of the 28 have dwellings.

Bellingen Council is owed a total of $202,335 in rates on the properties, with the largest bill owed by Terry Martin and James Martin for unpaid rates of $23,913.24 on a farm in Snows Road at North Dorrigo.

“They can’t steal your property and sell it up,” Terry Martin said yesterday. “Every one of those councillors knows what they are doing is wrong.”

The impending sale raises the question of just how secure a freehold title to property is, given that ratepayers sign no contract with council, yet can still lose their land.

At least one ratepayer on the list was in a state of shock after discovering he owed five years’ worth of rates on his house.

Bellingen councillors were unrepentant yesterday.

“No-one really wants it to happen but if people won’t pay, something has to be done,” said Cr Kerry Child.

“I hope some people pay before the day.”

Veteran councillor Cr Gordon Braithwaite, who has been in local government for 30 years, said the decision to proceed to sale had been unanimous, much of the land involved was in small parcels left over from road deviations and was of little value and some of the owners had been dead for 40 years.

Cr Braithwaite said he was concerned about several of the pensioners involved and regretted Bellingen Shire did not have a provision to allow rates to accumulate until an elderly person died or the land was sold, with the rates to be paid out of their estate, as exists in some other councils.

He said Terry Martin was ‘very rigid’ in his views; he drove over shire roads paid for by council rates ‘and his argument has been thrown out in court’.

Mr Martin was engaged in a long-running battle over the legal right of local councils to impose rates.

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