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Mayoral update on Covid-19 Response - 21 April

I want to take this opportunity to talk to you about your Council’s plan to assist help Waimakariri District residents and businesses recover from COVID-19

While this virus has been primarily a health issue, it has immediate and long ranging economic effects that I know are being felt by families, workers and employers across the District.

Given the uncertainty about what’s coming next, I wanted to share your Council’s plans for how Waimakariri will recover.

I know that everyone in our District has been affected in some way by this virus – be it through health and wellbeing issues, reduced working hours, job losses, and businesses under pressure and worse, having to close.

I’ve been hearing the stress and concern in people’s voices and know a lot of people are hurting. My friends and family like yours may be experiencing increased anxiety and a general level of uncertainty about the future. That said, there continues to be a lot of assistance from the Government that I won’t repeat here.

I’ve also heard people call for a zero percent rates increase in the coming year, while others are asking the Council to invest to assist economic recovery to support local jobs and businesses.

Restraining rates is and will be important, but delivering essential water services, maintaining community owned assets like roads and providing services like pools and libraries requires funding, and remain important.

In my view we need to play a role in helping to get our local economy running again, which ultimately results in more local people in local jobs. Equally, essential service infrastructure that needed to be replaced still needs to be replaced, so as a community our essential services are reliable and resilient.

The challenge when the Council looks ahead to decisions on next year’s budget is walking the line in a way that looks after residents today with relief initiatives, while also making decisions which will help us recover and that will benefit our young people and future generations.

The decisions we need to make to help Waimakariri recover will not be easy ones, but ones I believe will help in the short term while also minimising the locally felt and longer lasting economic effects of COVID-19.

Recently Central Government identified a large pool of funds towards infrastructure projects for recovery, and our Council has put forward together with Greater Christchurch partner Councils our list of ‘shovel-ready’ projects.

We have a number of projects planned and ready to go. This includes programmes of smaller works that will benefit smaller local contractors.  We’re also working with developers and builders to make sure projects requiring consents, or businesses requiring approvals, are dealt with as quickly as possible.

As I’m sure you all appreciate the situation has been changing rapidly and the effects of COVID-19 remain uncertain, but what is clear is that they will be felt for a while. I know it can be an overused phrase, but given what we’ve been through in recent years, Waimakariri is a resilient district and one that has overcome adversity of this level before. We can and will do it again.

The Council and staff are working from home on a review and revision of our programme with the aim to maintain essential services.

 

Rates and the Annual Plan

We know locals facing hardship will be anxious about their upcoming rates bill and we have a significant rebate scheme and range of options available designed specifically to help.

Waimakariri District Council is one of only a small number of Councils that have always offered hardship support like this. It’s not something new, and we will continue to support you however we can.

We have also moved quickly to sharpen our pencil and we’re reviewing our Draft Annual Plan for the coming year to make sure any immediate rates increases are as low as possible. We can’t yet confirm the numbers – but trust that we are working hard on this, and will update you as soon as possible.

What the review will also do is place the Council in an informed position so that our next moves are considered and are the best path to recovery. We need to be mindful of the effects of budget decisions in both the short and longer term.

In short, we want to cushion the impact on families in the immediate future but don’t want to make any quick or ill-considered decisions that have longer term financial consequences and stall Waimakariri from bouncing back.

The coming year is when we write our Long Term Plan, which is a work programme that takes a ten year look ahead from mid-2021. We are already working on that plan.

The decisions we make in this plan will have long-term consequences. As a Council we owe it to ratepayers to make the right decisions for our residents today as well as in the future.

The view I take is that we should continue to work to create a thriving, sustainable district that we would be proud to leave to future generations.

 

The role of infrastructure

You will have seen news coming from the Beehive that significant Central Government funds are being repurposed for projects that will stimulate the economy, keep people in jobs and equally provide greatly needed infrastructure.

The signals coming from Wellington are that they are looking for ‘shovel-ready’ projects. This is in addition to the $12 billion upgrade programme announced recently, and an $800 million reallocation of unspent Provincial Growth Funds.

The reason for this is simply that there are significant projects the country needs and funding these projects creates jobs and keeps people in work. Keeping people in work will soften the COVID-19 economic blow and fill pockets - which has flow on effects for all parts of the community.

As a Greater Christchurch partner we are working with neighbouring councils on an overall Recovery Plan that takes both an economic and social recovery point of view. Ultimately, that Plan will aim to see the wider Canterbury region thriving and prosperous.

The Greater Christchurch Councils have a strong history of collaborative working, which behind the scenes assisted our fast recovery from the earthquakes of 10 years ago and we aim to repeat this success.

The projects we are going to ask the Government to fund or co-fund are ones that are needed, and have been designed already for Waimakariri – road realignments, flood protection, drinking water infrastructure, public transport support and big picture projects like the Woodend Bypass, which will better enable the development of shovel-ready Ravenswood residential and commercial areas.

Recovery isn’t in any way just the role of Councils however, and we are committed to working with local developers, builders and businesses on projects with aligned purposes and goals.

I see this as a huge opportunity for the District to both stimulate our economy, as well as bring forward thinking and on-the-ground initiatives around climate change and sustainability so our District grows in a way that is both economically and environmentally sustainable.

 

Residents remain at the forefront of our thinking

Discussions around the Council table have been almost wholly focused on the twin goals of relief and recovery that I’ve mentioned already.

We are aware of the issues out there, the hardship people are facing and the anxiety that comes with an uncertain future. This whole COVID-19 situation has been a rollercoaster for everyone!

Please know that all members of the Council are united in their desire to look after the Waimakariri community – what is best for the community overall is the view we take with regard to all our decisions.

I’d also like to thank Council staff and all other essential workers (a big shout out to health and supermarket workers) for working exceptionally hard to keep the District running and ensuring essential services continue as best as possible while we are all in this lockdown. I also know the farming community have been ‘getting on with it’ as we come out of tough drought conditions, and I thank them for the vital role they play in filling our grocery stores as well as feeding the world.

Finally, thanks to you all for playing your part and staying home. It’s been frustrating but by all of us playing our part, we get to go out of the level 4 lockdown sooner and life can begin to return to normal.

Waimakariri is a strong and unified community. That was shown by how we bounced back following the earthquakes. Together we can do it again.

Be kind. Stay safe. Stay home. And look after one another.

Ngā mihi nui,

Dan Gordon

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