Council staff praised for trimming spending

Council staff have won praise for turning around a rapidly revised annual plan for Central Otago in the wake of Covid-19.

The Central Otago District Council adopted the pandemic-affected annual plan for 2020-21 at a full meeting of council on Wednesday.

As a result of savings made and spending cuts, rate increases have been revised from an average of 4.9% down to an average of 0.7%. Rates assessments and invoices will be sent out from July.

Central Otago District Mayor Tim Cadogan praised staff for the work put in from March when the annual plan had gone out for consultation when "the whole world and the course of history decided to change".

Staff had to adjust to working from home, dealing with the stress of lockdown, and being part of the council’s emergency operations centre, he said.

The draft plan was discussed by council in January and ward-specific budgets were accepted by community boards the following month, before the draft annual plan was released for consultation on March 16. Covid-19 intervened and on April 6 the executive committee discussed its impact and decided budgets would be revised, leading to more meetings from May 11-14 when revised budgets were put to the community boards.

On May 18 Council decided on an operating budget with an average increase of approximately 1.1%, which after interest adjustments resulted in an 0.9% increase.

Savings comprised of reducing the grants budget by $100,000, and using $500,000 from the disaster relief reserves fund to offset increased costs in water, wastewater and waste minimisation.

Savings of $34,000 made due to Covid-19 were used to reduce the rates take and from spreading long-term plan costs of $195,000 over three years.

Finally, seismic assessments to the value of $160,000 were deferred for 12 months, excluding the Cromwell Ward which will use reserve funds to cover $15,000 of assessment costs.

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