Few councils shedding staff

Whether a 0% rates rise has been signalled, or a business-as-usual approach adopted, public servants’ jobs across the South appear safe in the short term, in the face of the expected recession due to Covid-19.

Queenstown Lakes District Council has instituted a salary freeze and cut $6million from its staffing budgets as council income is forecast to drop dramatically; Southland District Council has suggested a possible drop in staff numbers in the next few years; and though the Otago Regional Council has been singled out by the Taxpayers’ Union as needing ‘‘a kick up the arse’’ for pursuing among the highest percentage rates rises among New Zealand’s regional councils — and not responding to ‘‘struggling ratepayers’’’ needs — only the Gore District Council said it was trimming staff, when contacted by the Otago Daily Times last week.

The ODT reported the Dunedin City Council’s 50 highest-paid staff were taking, on average, 2% pay cuts and the council had pared back its proposed increase in staffing by $1.8million.

The ODT then asked every council in the South what its plans for staffing were while the region’s ratepayers face the significant uncertainty of a pandemic recovery.

Otago Regional Council council chief executive Sarah Gardner said she had assured staff their jobs were safe.

And the council was not considering pay cuts.

‘‘It is too early to establish any impact [Covid-19 could have] on revenue at this time,’’ she said.

Environment Southland has forecast a drop in income of about $3.5million in 2020-21 due to the pandemic’s impact on tourism and income from investments.

Council chairman Nicol Horrell said despite a strong balance sheet and spending cuts the year ahead would be ‘‘challenging’’.

‘‘The largest impact on the council’s annual income is an expected drop of $2.8million in marine fees from cruise ships visiting the Southland region, particularly Fiordland. A further drop in income of $700,000 is due to an expected reduction in the council’s investment portfolio as a result of the Covid-19 economic downturn,’’ he said.

Queenstown Lakes District Council has forecast a loss of $25million in revenue — and with it a $6.1million saving in staff costs in the proposed 2020-21 annual plan had been found, which included the salary freeze.

A council spokesman said ‘‘adequate staffing levels’’ were required so the council could deliver the services expected of it.

Southland District Council staff matters were private, council chief executive Steve Ruru said.

But as an organisation ‘‘we are very conscious of the need for restraint in the current environment’’.

‘‘Councillors have asked that work be done to identify a range of options that could be implemented to reduce the rating and other funding inputs needed during the first three years of the [long-term plan]. These will include potential reductions in levels of service and rationalisation of assets as well as potential funding tool changes,’’ he said.

Central Otago District Council was already ‘‘relatively thinly resourced’’, chief executive Sanchia Jacobs said.

‘‘And of course, as a good employer, we are working to give our permanent staff members as much security as possible.’’

The Gore Multisports Complex, which incorporates the Gore district’s aquatic centre and event centre, is the only area there was a level of exposure due to Covid-19 and 17 part-time staff were let go during Level 4, a spokeswoman said.

Job security was not an issue for Clutha or Waitaki council employees.

The Invercargill City Council did not respond to a request for comment.

hamish.maclean@odt.co.nz

 

At a glance

Council  proposed rates rise/ adjustment. — 

 

  • Dunedin 6.5% - 4.1%
  • Waitaki 7.67% - 0%
  • Clutha 3.61% - 1.93%
  • Central Otago  4.9% - 1.1% 
  • Q’town Lakes 6.76% - 1.72%
  • Gore 4.53% - tbc
  • Southland 3.27% -  2.65%
  • Invercargill 3.5% -  2%
  • Env Southland 5.9% - tbc 
  • Otago RCl 9.1% -  tbc 
 

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