Emergency measures may halt rates rise

Waitaki District Council staff and councillors discuss a Covid-19 pandemic response on Tuesday....
Waitaki District Council staff and councillors discuss a Covid-19 pandemic response on Tuesday. PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN
The Waitaki District Council will consider stopping a planned rates rise at an emergency council meeting today.

The purpose of the meeting, which replaces the ordinary meeting that was to be held on March 31, is to consider and approve emergency delegations and powers during the Covid-19 Level 4 lockdown, and possibly beyond.

However, Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said councillors would also consider dropping a proposed 3.5% rates increase to help people cope with the fallout from the pandemic.

It was likely the public would be given two options to consider in the 2020-21 draft annual plan: no rates rise or a 3.5% rates rise, with details of the possible consequences of both.

Community engagement on the 2020-21 annual plan was due to start on April 1 and run for four weeks, but due to the uncertainties surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Kircher said that would probably be pushed back at least a week.

There would be no public events or submission hearings and the focus would be on the use of print and social media.

Hearings dates scheduled for May 18 and 19 would now be used for council deliberations.

Councillors met on Tuesday to discuss operations and services and more details of the stimulus and support package announced last week. The council has allocated up to $2million from its disaster fund for the package.

"Although there has to be discussion and agreement on them, we are considering such initiatives as decreasing or removing the penalties for late payment of rates, postponing payment of rates, potential partial or full remission of rates in extreme hardship situations ... bringing forward some council projects with a particular focus on those that need skills that will be filled by some of the people who may be temporarily unemployed as a result of Covid-19, looking at recovery options post-Covid-19 restrictions," Mr Kircher said.

"The idea is, at [today’s] meeting, to get these things in place."

The emergency delegations committee would be made up of Mr Kircher (chairman), deputy mayor Melanie Tavendale (deputy chairwoman) and one other councillor whose portfolio aligns to the matter of urgency, in the first instance.

At present, councillors could join a meeting remotely and vote, but quorum had to be met by those in the room.

"It’s all about being able to operate in the situation we’re in, so things can happen and we can keep doing what we need to do," Mr Kircher said.

Other councillors could still submit their views.

If someone in the Waitaki district tested positive for Covid-19 , an emergency operations centre was also ready to activate, Mr Kircher said.

"Support will come in to help the person, or people, involved and make sure they can self-isolate and the right mechanisms are in place for them to be able to recover safely," he said.

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