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Source: Whangarei District Council

This page contains a news story about a new relief package proposed to support economic and social rebuilding after the COVID-19 lockdown period.

Updated: 12/05/2020 12:02 p.m.

​Whangarei District Council responded quickly to COVID-19 with its 10 point Economic Recovery Response. Now it will also consider a $3 million COVID-19 Relief Package, and reduction in the increase to rates in the 2020-2021 Annual Plan.

Council will meet on Thursday to give the go ahead to an Annual Plan Consultation Document that details the rates proposal and the $3 million COVID-19 Relief Package.

‘’Council needs to provide relief to ratepayers, community organisations and groups, while supporting an economic re-start,’’ says Mayor Sheryl Mai. 

Council must formally consult with the public after proposing to change the rates increase of 5.2% for this, the third year in the 10 Year Plan, set in 2018.

‘’That was then – we are beginning to understand the impact of COVID-19 and realise that an increase of 5.2% is just too hard for our community.  Just as we must consult when we increase rates, we must also consult when we propose to decrease rates, because the income reflects the services Council delivers.

‘’In the short term, we can juggle existing budgets – including cuts in personnel costs through a sinking lid policy, no pay rises, and no staff training for a couple of years.’’

Councillors will discuss the proposals in a virtual meeting live streamed on Facebook this Thursday – the public is invited to view.

The $3 million Relief Package covers three main areas – Community Groups, District Development and Ratepayer support. 

The recommendations include $900,000 available to be allocated to community groups, in four tranches of funding; a Community Response Fund ($225,000) for response to exceptional community requests; Enhanced Operational Funding ($270,000) for groups needing more funding than available through normal funding round processes; Directed Support ($315,000) for groups Council had identified to be delivering community support; Unallocated/Special Projects ($90,000), and a reserve fund for topping up projects when needed.

A total of $1,350,000 will go into district development, including a $300,000 partnership with Northland Inc and NorthChamber to support businesses registered with Business Helpline, as well as a Growth Advisor role to develop business intelligence and cross collaboration projects.

The package also includes $420,000 for inner city living and city centre redevelopment, working with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and Kāinga Ora to deliver affordable housing in the city centre/city centre fringe. Council believes this project will also provide opportunities for local contractors to leverage government infrastructure funding and subsidies.

An additional $50,000 would go into promoting our District and its businesses.

The hospitality sector, including food and alcohol premises, such as restaurants, bars, takeaway outlets, cafes restaurants, liquor outlets and caterers, as well as hairdressers and commercial camp sites would receive $53,000 to offset 25% of licence fees. This support will only be available to businesses which were unable to trade during the lockdown.

And Council’s tenants who cannot access their premises for trading for an additional 6-months (if needed) over and above concessions already made while in Level 4 will be eligible to apply for a proportion of a $527,000 fund.

 A fund of $750,000 has been set aside for ratepayer support for the financial year starting 1 July 2020. Relief includes; letting ratepayers defer payments for up to six months; reducing penalties for those who fall behind from 10% to 5%; extending the date for adding penalties on prior arrears by one month to

5 October 2020 and extending the date for paying the first instalment of next year’s rates by one month to 20 September 2020.

‘’We have already offered some short-term relief to people in difficulty, including extending deadlines for fourth quarter rates instalments, offering payment plans and delaying or reducing penalties to reduce some of the stress and financial hardship faced by businesses and households. It was good to see those who needed to take up the offer do so. We always encourage anyone having difficulty paying rates to contact us, and we will advise the options available.”

Ms Mai said Council was aware that the proposed Relief Package for those affected by COVID-19 in the community was funded by that same community.

‘’We will be distributing rates paid by the community back to the community. We know the situations people are in will be many and varied, and we have come up with a framework that we believe should be able to help many groups and individuals and get Whangārei back on track economically.’’

She complimented Council staff for their work and clarity of care for the community during the process. The agenda item is available in full: