Mayoral update for 1 April

1 April 2020

Hello everyone, I’m Mayor Andy Foster.

Rates – I’m going to jump right into this subject, because many of you are asking about it.

A lot of businesses are hurting especially in sectors which have essentially been closed down by the Lockdown. Sadly that means a lot of people have lost their jobs or had hours reduced. Many people are looking to the City Council to make some big moves to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic in terms of softening the economic blow for local businesses and ratepayers. We absolutely get that, and we’re working on it.

I’m meeting with my councillors and our Chief Executive Barbara McKerrow and her senior management team in a workshop tomorrow where we’ll be looking at all the financial issues facing the city and the Council. A wide range of options will be discussed. We will provide councillors with a lot of background information about what other Councils are signalling, and the scale of the impact of the current situation on the Council’s own revenue. The sums involved are very large.

We know councils around the country are facing similar financial pressures as Wellington City Council – and we’ve been talking at political and senior management level with other big councils and via Local Government NZ.

We will discuss the potential for deferral of the next rates bill due in June.

We will discuss the approach to the 2020/21 rates, and their willingness to alter the expenditure programme and service levels or debt fund operating expenditure.

We will discuss a ‘pandemic package’.

We will discuss Government’s request to bring forward capital projects to help reboot the economy.

We will discuss the way we handle the Annual Plan process. What spending cuts could mean for big projects like Te Ngakau Civic Square, the Central Library, the Town Hall project and our various infrastructure obligations – notably our three-waters network – will be front-of-mind.

So will the possibility that we could get some ‘shovel-ready’ projects going if the local economy needs ‘pump-priming’ in the coming year.

Council borrowing and debt levels will also be discussed – this is an issue that’s starting to be debated at a national level so we’ll be getting briefings on the implications of such an approach to reduce rates impact.

Any recommendations that come from the workshop will be formally discussed at a full Council meeting next Thursday. Immediately after tomorrow’s workshop I’ll be taking part in an infrastructure meeting with the region’s other mayors and council CEOs

Finally, and on a different note, tonight at midnight marks just one week since we entered the lockdown. That means we’ve got another three weeks to go – in the best case scenario.

It’s been a strange seven days, with some sad moments, some surreal moments, but also plenty of surprising and uplifting moments.

Like me, I’m sure you’ve been seeing amazing examples of kindness, respect, patience and aroha on a daily basis. Everyone I am seeing is doing the right things, staying home, exercising locally, keeping physical separation. There’s a real sense of togetherness in this.

I am hearing some people though don’t appear to be taking it seriously and there are places where people are congregating. Please, please don’t do that. We are having to look at closing at least one more popular location which would be a shame, but we just have to keep separation.

Covid-19 is highly contagious. We want to stamp it out in New Zealand now. That way we save lives, and can get out of Lockdown earlier rather than later. We also reduce the impact on our economy and our standard of living.

So thanks again Wellington – you’ve been absolutely, positively awesome. Stay safe, stay connected, stay home, and stay strong – kia kaha. I’ll be back tomorrow with another update.