The Northland Regional Council is pleading with people to not stop paying their rates or cancel direct debits.
Council chair Penny Smart says if rates are not paid then the region’s recovery from the Covid-19 lockdown will be slower, more painful and even more expensive next year.
Ms Smart says council’s crucial functions continue despite the pandemic, including environmental monitoring, 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 the regional response to Covid-19.
Ms Smart says that work includes ensuring support is available to assist 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 and food distribution is maintained and kept running,” she says.
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.
“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.”
Council has brought forward its planned meeting to consider submissions and adopt its Annual Plan and this will now happen later this month in a bid to provide the community with as much certainty as it could, as soon as it could.
Ms 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.”
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.
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