COVID-19 Response Fund
Council has established a COVID-19 Response Fund of up to $2 million (using funding from reserves) to help the district recover. Council holds money from previous investment and asset sales in “community purposes reserves”, which are used for one off significant projects in the community – such as the current Provincial Growth Fund projects. These reserves mean we can progress some major projects without having a significant impact on rates. They also form part of Council’s strong financial position, providing funds that we can access in an emergency.
“We keep reserve funds for a rainy day, and this is that rainy day” says Mayor Ash. “Interest rates have never been lower – so borrowing externally for capital projects won’t cost our ratepayers more, and we can put some of this money to good use to help our community recover.”
The COVID-19 Response Fund will be used to drive capital projects forward that were already planned and budgeted for. These are projects like improvements to our main streets to help attract visitors and keep them in our towns, progressing the Provincial Growth Fund project to develop the Te Aroha Domain in to a health and wellness hub and attract both domestic and international visitors, upgrading the toilets and carpark in the Waharoa rest area, and upgrades to our water and wastewater network. This funding will also allow Council to review our capital work programme, and look to bring projects forward where we can. Council continuing to spend on projects like these helps to keep the economy going and help keep business in our district moving. We have also reviewed our procurement policies to ensure our systems support using local businesses as much as possible, while still getting the best value for ratepayers.
The Response Fund will also be used to provide support for the community following the COVID19 pandemic. We know there are a lot of groups in our community struggling, and will be able to use this funding to provide relief to some of those groups. Council needs to do more work over the coming weeks to understand what the immediate needs are of the community and criteria for managing this funding – but the focus will be on cultural, social and economic support.
The response fund will also be used to improve efficiency within Council – looking for opportunities to deliver services faster and smarter for our community.
“This has been an extremely challenging budget,” says Mayor Ash. “We need to keep delivering our services, meet higher standards from the government, and continue to invest in our community to help boost economic recovery. At the same time, the community very clearly told us that rates increases are not acceptable right now.”
“I believe that the decisions we’ve made strike this balance. We’re using our strong balance sheet. We are being mindful of costs. But we are also continuing to move forward to help our community recover.”