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Serepisos on payment plan to meet Hutt City rates

Wednesday 1st September 2010

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The Auditor-General moved quickly today to close down suggestions that the Hutt City Council has gone easy on Wellington property developer Terry Serepisos's rate and development levy payments. 

However, rates are in arrears on one Hutt Valley property and a crucial Code of Compliance is being withheld on a Serepisos development, a new IBM facility in Petone, "until the full amount of the Reserves Contribution is paid."

"Payments for this levy are up to date and are being made on time to an agreed payment plan," the assistant Auditor-General, local government, Bruce Robertson, said in a letter released to the news media this afternoon.

The issue arose when a Hutt Valley ratepayer and business owner, Richard Burrell of Building Solutions, laid a complaint  on Monday after lunching with the mayor of the city, David Ogden, who suggested Serepisos was $950,000 in arrears on rates and reserves levy payments.

"Through our preliminary enquiries, we consider that the Council is appropriately dealing with debts owed by commercial ratepayers and, in particular, Mr Serepisos," said Robertson.

Burrell's complaint prompted claims of regret and political sabotage from Ogden, whose conversation with Burrell is reported to have occurred during a fund-raising lunch for Ogden's upcoming mayoral election campaign.

Ogden said he had "unwisely and in error" discussed Serepisos's circumstances with Burrell and, according to Burrell, phoned some days later "to plead with me to keep all our conversations confidential."

Burrell is reported to have said Ogden had also discussed whether to accept a $25,000 campaign donation from Serepisos, whose Century City Developments Ltd. empire has risen to prominence in Wellington because of its sponsorship of the A-League football team, the Phoenix.

Serepisos's finances have become the subject of repeated speculation, and the Wellington City Council is believed to have been considering its capacity to take over the Phoenix franchise if Serepisos becomes unable to support it.

Robertson's letter said "there is no evidence to suggest favourable treatment of particular commercial ratepayers, including Mr Serepisos."

"There is also no evidence of delay or withholding of Council processes in respect of the recovery of any debts owing to the Council. In one instance, a small portion of annual rates before 2009/10 is overdue for one property owned by Mr Serepisos. We are satisfied that the Council is applying appropriate processes to recover the amount."

Fairfax Media reported Burrell as being told by Ogden that Serepisos had rates outstanding of $420,000, reserves contributions of $200,000 were owing on the IBM Petone development, and development impact levies of $150,000 were also owed.

Serepisos acknowledged there had been a dispute with the council over the length of time that rates and reserve contributions would be deferred on the $22 million IBM development.

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