Jason Smith, Kaipara District Mayor and Penny Smart, Northland Regional Council Chair

Zooming in on business recovery

by Paul Campbell

Technology is to take a leading role in efforts to get the district back on its economic feet for a post-Covid-19 recovery as the Kaipara District Council reaches out to the wider business community across main street retailers and in the manufacturing and building sectors.

“Our Task Force for Economic Support and Recovery will, this week and next, be holding Zoom conferences by internet with business interests across all Kaipara communities to get the latest information of their status and their thoughts, in order to help recovery,” says Mayor Jason Smith.

As a first step, Dr Smith said people affected by the shutdown should visit the council’s web page to see the videoed results of an Infometric evidence-based survey on Kaipara’s outlook from economist, Brad Olsen.

“The survey underpins our thinking and our work and people can share thoughts in planned ‘cluster’ Zoom meetings to gather information so the task force can advocate for Kaipara to get its fair share of funding that is available.”

Dr Smith noted that there are some 200 support agencies operating in Northland. The KDC has allocated $675,000 in targeted business funding, and it has had 800 replies to its initial call for feedback expected to be discussed in this week’s online council briefing.

“Until the (coronavirus) all clear comes, and unless otherwise advised by the government, the council won’t physically meet, so we will be online and open to public attention via a Facebook link,” Dr Smith said. 

Council is expected to adopt an Annual Plan effective July 1 at its next meeting, after recently agreeing on a rates cut for 2020/2021 from a proposed 5.49 per cent to an average of 3.97 per cent.

Meanwhile, Northland Regional Council members have supported an Annual Plan “heavily modified to better reflect the tough economic and other Covid-19 related challenges Northland and its people collectively face for the next 12 months.”

Chair Penny Smart says in recent weeks; an estimated $2.4 million has been slashed from the council’s proposed 2020/21 budget.

“Of that, just under $1.2 million would come from cuts to the existing budget and another roughly $800,000 from new work proposed in the Annual Plan. Another $410,000 would be saved from recruitment, with some vacant positions now not planned to be filled.”

Chair Smart says as, with many other local authorities, a formal period for public consultation on the NRC’s Annual Plan was drawing to a close in late March, just as the nation went into the level four lockdown.

Covid-19 had significantly impacted the council’s revenue, effectively leaving the council with a $4 million shortfall against what was budgeted for the 12 months from June 30.

What had recently been put forward by staff was a proposal that would slash a previously planned rate virtually in half, from an 8.6% increase to one of 4.5%.

Chair Smart says at 4.5%, the average impact on annual rates would be in the order of a $16.23 increase a year for a typical ratepayer, allowing the council and its ratepayers to move ahead with “as much certainty as possible in the circumstances.”

In a similar vein, the NRC was also keen to work with central government during the next year to support a range of local economic recovery work, both already announced and planned. Council anticipates adopting its Annual Plan 2020/21 at its meeting on Tuesday, June 16.