Source: Whangarei District Council
Updated: 9/04/2020 11:47 a.m.
Whangarei Mayor Sheryl Mai says “Councillors, Council staff and I have received many questions from the public regarding help for our communities and businesses during and following the Covid-19 lockdown period.”
“At a time when we are all battling to keep levels of service up while working under very different conditions than usual, we have reached wide and deep across the organisation to gather together a response that covers 10 main points.
“While we are releasing our proposed 10-point economic recovery response, Council has not yet been able to meet formally to discuss and approve these measures, so at this stage they are indicative.”
Mayor Sheryl Mai said she and Councillors fully supported the response, which is designed to provide support to Whangarei residents and businesses.
It includes help for those in need, support for those companies that supply Council with materials and services, and carefully targeted budget and cost-cutting to ease the burden in the short-term, while preserving our ability to deliver on our mid to long-term vision for Whangarei.
Initiatives in the response
1. Reviewing our planned rates increase
Council is urgently reviewing the planned rates increase for 2020-2021 before finalising the budget and setting the rates for next year. We know parts of our community are hurting, and we will do our very best to deliver relief. This needs to be balanced with the need to keep paying for things that are important day-to-day (access to safe drinking water, wastewater and rubbish/recycling collection), ongoing infrastructure maintenance, and the future needs of our community.
2. Operational budget review
Councillors have asked staff to review all budgets to see what savings can be made. Staff are also being asked to identify any new ways to reduce the rates burden on ratepayers without reducing service levels, and to seek targeted ways to assist people in these difficult times.
3. Support for those struggling to pay rates, fees and charges
We are offering support via payment plans, and advice about where to go for more financial help, to people who are struggling to pay Council rates, fees and charges. We will also continue promotion of the Government’s existing Rates Rebate Scheme, which provides a subsidy to low-income homeowners on the cost of their rates. The maximum rebate is $640 with an income threshold of $25,660.
4. Community support
We are connecting with our essential services providers to ensure support for our more vulnerable older people, and we are continuing our work on community safety. Our Community Development team are also working through community funding to ensure community groups remain supported. We are encouraged by how much our communities are working for one another, and how this helps build and strengthen community networks amongst our neighbourhoods, so that our whole District emerges from this incredibly challenging time with a new sense of cohesion and connection.
5. More frequent payments to Council suppliers
We’re investigating ways to increase the frequency of our supplier payment runs. The aim is to provide faster payments to suppliers to help with their cashflow.
6. Rent relief for commercial and community tenants
As a result of the lockdown, many of Council’s commercial tenants have had no access to their premises. We are working through options for providing relief where we can, depending on the kind of lease. Some leases allow for a fair portion of rent relief associated with the tenant’s ability to operate and produce an income. Where leases do not already include provision for relief, we will consider requests on a case by case basis. We will be sending letters to our tenants covering off the details.
7. Support for businesses
We are partnering with Northland Inc and NorthChamber to support the provision of on-the-ground practical support for small and medium businesses, as well as regularly publishing information on where local businesses can seek support and advice.
8. Boosting Council’s capital programme to help the recovery
We are investigating whether parts of Whangarei’s capital works programme can be brought forward or increased to stimulate business and create jobs in response to potential government funding for any ‘shovel ready’ projects. Alongside this, we are looking to bring forward any projects that will play a key part in Whangarei’s economic recovery (where access to contractors who are available to deliver the work allows).
9. Emergency response
Council is a key contributor to Northland’s Civil Defence Emergency Management response, which is providing local support to the national emergency in Whangarei District and the wider Northland area. The focus is on community welfare, including the launch of a new 0800 number for those urgently needing assistance with access to essentials (0800 790 791), which is managed through our Contact Centre. Staff from many parts of Council are supporting our Civil Defence response, including helping on the frontline of welfare services – delivering food and medicine to those in need. Our Community Development team is also providing Civil Defence welfare network support for vulnerable groups, and keeping in touch with community response coordinators and volunteer coordinators about what they are doing on the ground.
10. Forward planning starts now
We are considering the mid to long-term impact of Covid-19 on infrastructure needs, the hospitality and tourism sectors, and district and community development. Council policies, programmes of works, and the way we can add value to our community will be worked through carefully to ensure the best outcome for our District. Our CBD is one area where we will be focusing in the future – we’ll be looking for paradigm shifting ideas to explore ways we can ensure our city is a fantastic place to visit, shop, work, eat, live and play. All of our forward planning will be reflected in our Long Term Plan, which outlines the vision of the District for the next 10 years.