Covid-19; aiming to provide certainty in uncertain times
2 Apr 2020, 8:56 AM
As the world grapples with the huge changes forced on it by the Covid-19 pandemic, Northlanders are being reassured their local authorities are doing all they can to deliver as much local certainty as possible.
Northland Regional Council Chair Penny Smart says in these unprecedented and constantly evolving times, the regional council is doing its utmost to provide Northlanders with what certainty and support it can in the weeks and months ahead.
The council’s crucial functions continue despite the pandemic, including environmental monitoring deemed critical to ensuring the health and wellbeing of Northland communities, ensuring maritime navigational safety, flood and drought monitoring and management and supporting critical Civil Defence work.
A core team of essential Northland Civil Defence staff – jointly funded and supported by the region’s four local authorities – is still working to support our regional response to Covid-19.
That work includes ensuring support is available to assist our communities in a welfare capacity, for example making sure that there is water and food accessible to our vulnerable people and working regionally and nationally to ensure key infrastructure like telecommunications, electricity, fuel supply, food distribution etc is maintained and kept running.
Regional council staff are also working (both actively and behind the scenes) within the confines imposed by the pandemic and the council’s elected representatives are all working remotely.
As with many other local authorities, a formal period for public consultation on the regional council’s Annual Plan was drawing to a close just as the nation went into lockdown late last month.
Chair Smart says while the world had changed unexpectedly and rapidly in recent days, councils still had to plan to provide a number of services essential to keeping people and communities healthy and safe; not just through the Level 4 Lockdown but in the tough months to come.
“We’ve accepted a number of late submissions on our Annual Plan and rest assured we have heard the very real shared concerns of our communities about the impact of Covid-19 and these will need to be strongly factored into our councillors’ considerations.”
The council has brought forward its planned meeting to consider submissions and adopt its Annual Plan and this would now happen later in April in a bid to provide the community with as much certainty as it could, as soon as it could.
Chair Smart says much of the spending already proposed over the next year had been intended to increase a long-term focus on helping native life flourish, caring for water and protecting communities from flood risk.
However, regional councillors were very aware the pandemic was already causing financial hardships for many, especially in Northland, and associated local authority work programmes – and the rates that paid for them – would be one of a number of critical financial considerations for people.
“Central Government has acknowledged this and already provided a significant package to support people’s incomes, including working with banks to provide mortgage holidays.”
Similarly, Northlanders who have lost their jobs or are now on reduced incomes may qualify for the Accommodation Supplement administered by the Ministry of Social Development through Work and Income.
Regional councillors’ collective plea to people in the meantime was to not stop paying their rates or cancel direct debit.
“If rates are not paid then our region’s recovery will be slower, more painful and even more expensive next year.”
Those experiencing hardship should contact their local district council (which collected the regional council rates on its behalf) to discuss the situation and arrange a payment plan.
All councils were sympathetic and would keep the public fully informed on their plans – including around rates – going forward.
In the meantime, the regional council urges people to follow Central Government’s advice to stay home, stay safe, look after each other and stay up to date with official guidance at www.covid19.govt.nz